remembering her uncle Fred Croft, who fled the South in the 1930s after a near-lynching.
Vanessa Croft: As a child, my aunts and uncles were like movie stars to us, living in different parts of the country, you know that was my uncle in Detroit, or Los Angeles. And my Uncle Fred lived in New York. But he never came back home to visit my dad. I never knew the reasons why until my dad told me this story.
One day, this group of white men came to my granddad’s house asking to bring my Uncle Fred out, and Fred was a young teenage boy. They said, “This little white girl, somebody pushed her off the back porch.” And the little girl, she stood up and said, “I told y’all it was not him.” But this guy said, “I know it was Fred. We coming back.” So my granddad told my daddy, “Run downtown, tell Fred, do not come home,” and my granddad got Fred out of town with nothing but the shirt on his back. So if my Uncle Fred was there at home that day, you just knew it would not have ended well.
I was a grown woman when I heard the story, so for me it really came into perspective—that’s why you have seven uncles who leave and never come back to Alabama. And then it started clicking, okay, 1906. There was a 28 year-old-man named Bunk Richardson, who hadn’t done anything by the way, but the mob lynched him, off of the Coosa River train bridge, because he was black. And it’s not like he was hung and they cut him down. They left his body there, so his family members who were told to get out of town, as they left that morning, they saw their relative's body hanging. And my grandad and my family would have seen his body hanging on that train trestle. So the racial terror has been embedded into you. And that’s the intention of any terrorist act, to invoke fear into a community, and, I’m sure it did.
My dad didn’t see my Uncle Fred, after he had to leave Alabama, until years later. Word War II broke out and they both had joined the Navy. My dad was stationed in Pearl Harbor, and Fred was on a warship that docked in Hawaii, and that was the next time my dad saw his brother. He told me that story, and I could see in his face, that was probably one of his best days because that was his best friend.
Today, the founder of the Ku Klux Klan, Nathan Bedford Forrest, his statue is down on Broad street, Gadsden. The middle school was General Forrest. And, you know, having your rival high school playing Dixie, I remember that. That was their fight song, and I hated playing them. The entire stadium was just going wild, and they’re running back and forth with the confederate flag. It was almost like they were going to battle, and this is at a football game. And we were just sitting there, just wish we could leave.
Those types of things have an impact on you generation after generation, dealing with the same issues, it breeds white supremacy. There is a silent supremacy, they don’t have to do anything or say anything, it has already done its job.
I remember we had to eventually put my dad in a nursing home because he had a feeding tube. One day I was leaving, and he said, “Tell all my children they better stay close, because they gonna have a ride through.” A ride through is when the klan would ride through at night. And like, “No, Daddy, you’re okay. Nobody’s riding through.” But isn’t that something? He was 86, and still remembered that.