Yes, it is true. We did not incite a riot but we basically let it happen and stood back and watched people stand up to biogotry and racism. The We would be my husband and me. The year was 94 and the place was a little town called Woodbine, Ga. Very south Ga.
We were property managers and had taken a job out of Florida and into South Georgia.
The little town was on the east coast and extremely predjudice but oddly enough, the town was about 60 percent black. People were also there from Kings Bay Naval Base in Kingsland. There was also a triple nickle vet still alive in the area. All said and done it was a backwards, predjudice town.
We knew immediately after taking the job that this town was not for us and there was something very wrong with the feel of the atmosphere regarding the population or at least the demeanor of the residents of our complex.
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We had been in the complex unpacking for about a week when we had very bad feelings about how the residents acted. The majority of the residents would not look at us in the eye when speaking. The residents never smiled. The residents seemed skiddish and broken down in spirit. You could say good morning with a smile and never get a response.
I told my husband when we drove into the complex these words exactly, " There is something wrong here. These folks look beaten down". He said, " Yeah I noticed the same thing and look at the women and how they are dressed...like in the fifties. No one wears scarves like they protrayed on pancake boxes anymore. The women in this area did.
We had only been working this complex for about three weeks when the management started questioning my husband about his fifty percent service connected disability. I told them that they could not do that as it was against the ADA law. That was mistake #1 as far as wanting to keep a job. I told my husband that evening, " We are so fired, you know that don't you"? He was still under the belief back then that the new ADA law was strictly enforced. I to some extent was of the same mindset. Two for two, looks like we had some big discrimination in this company and this job. It appeared not only did they discriminate against disabled but it looked more and more like they didn't care much for the color black either. This was very evident since we were white and , well I was, my husband is native american.
One day as I was taking rent and many of the residents were on section 8, and the rent was always paid, so lack of paying rent was not their beef with the occupants. I asked a kindly black lady, " What is going on here, with residents being so distant to me and my husband". I knew we were management but we were not new to management and always had a good relationship with most of residents past in Florida. She took her receipt and said, " You will be like the others and kick us out". " We know better than to trust you ". I had a ghastly look on my face and said, " What are you talking about"? She quickly hurried out the door. It was March and the wind blew the door shut....I think.
It was the next afternoon that the supervisors and old managers came by to see how we were managing with the occupancy and property. The old managers advised us sternly, "How come you car is out front"? " Those people will tear it all to pieces".
My husband told them, " Well we are not moving it". "Maybe they just didn't like your management skill, but whatever, we are not moving the car". I then asked, " Why is that chain up into the entrance?" You told us to keep that chain locked after 9PM. What the hell is all of that about? What if we have to leave or someone does. They said, " There is another entrance and that main one attracts drugs and the wrong people. It is a safety precaution. We shook our heads in part disbelief and part shock.
The next morning my husband went to the Police dept and asked about the chain and the safety precaution and we saw right away this was an effort that was blessed by the local authorities. It was not by us. It felt wrong. It felt caged and it felt primative.
We started making changes. We took the chain off the front entrance. We parked the car in front unlocked. We walked the premises and talked to our residents and extended our hand of friendship. We laughed. We were not afraid. We were cautious but not afraid. The reason for the caution was one morning we found a bullet , a prestine bullet sitting on our door mat. We had a security resident who worked for the local police and he was a mid twenties black man with two children and a wife. We showed him the bullet and he said, " The truth, you have already figured out I guess, I wouldn't even try to stop this town from being this town". I said, " We just want equality in this apartment complex, no more no less". I was very sick at the time with hyperthyroidsm and down to about 100 lbs and pretty frail but I worked every day.
Little by little, the residents were warming up to us as they noticed the chain link not going back up and not being locked. Two of the residents would come by every day and check on my well being and offer to help me cook supper or clean. I welcomed the help and paid them as I was pretty sick and trying to maintain the books and the property while my husband did the maintenance and grounds.
Things we thought were going pretty good as we had full occupancy and people were acting like they had a home instead of a concentration camp until the day our boss came out and told us to take a walk with him and he had a notebook. He walked with my husband and my husband carried and still does carry a recorder for notes, etc, with him . The boss told him to start removing tenants as we had too many blacks in the complex. My husband turned on the recorder. He announced to the guy, " Repeat that". He said plain as day, We have an overpopulation of the blacks in here we must evict." He then not caring that a recorder was on told my husband and me once he got inside the complex to find anything wrong with the apartment and kick em out." Dirty Dishes, unkept home, children playing unsupervised by someone 16 and under, just anything we could find. There were people washing dishes in their tubs and we were told to ignore the maitenance requests and plant flowers. All Hell was about to break loose. See, we were different.
We would not do what other managers were afraid or empowered to do. Maybe they had that bigoted mind set or needed a job worse but we needed one terribly so forget that excuse. Once that boss left, we called the EEOC in Miami, and the reason we called them , is that the home office of which we were employed was in Florida. We called Housing and Urban Developement and we called the Feds. We started gathering papers of memos sent to us to evict certain targeted black apartment units due to poor housekeeping althought we had inspections of clean houses. We then called the NAACP into our home for a meeting. We invited residents into out apt to see the letter sent to us by management and we even had the request saying due to overpopulation of blacks. We had never run up against a brick wall like this in all of our lives. We took pictures. We interviewed the residents.
One resident stands out in my mind. She was very pregnant. Due any day. She had two small children. Her house was spotless but they wanted to evict her. We told her to stay put till we got word back from the NAACP. Today this would be real news. Back in the early nineties it was just a nightmare. She was overdue and crying daily.
We were not stupid. We knew we were going to be fired and we wouldn't quit. We couldn't. We felt the people needed some compassion and someone on their side. We would take the heat and the firing but we wanted justice. We did not want these biogted people to throw out people because of the color of their skin. It was against the law. More than that, it was a moral imperative. We couldn't just leave. We contacted an attorney out of Atlanta regarding our rights for the disabled. We sent recordings, we sent pictures, we sent memos. The residents found out how this company was doing things at the NAACP meeting and the NAACP was taking evidence to the Brunswick office.
I secured us another residence in another town because once they fire you, you only have so long to get out. I secured a small mobile home in the adjoining town. My husband decided to take it a step further. We would not just leave upong firing but We would make them evict US once we were fired and they would have to pay our moving expense because after all the law was on our side, right? Legally right but in a sundown town, uuh no. They did not pay any moving costs.
It was the first of June and the residents started writing letters on our behalf that we were good managers and refused to break the law. They started this writing due to the fact we had received two warnings that we were breaking company rules by neglecting our jobs via non evicition proceedings. Everytime management came in, we walked with them with a recorder. They were handing out 3 day notices and then we would make note of the incident and pass it on to the NAACP and lawyer and other beauracratic establishments. THEY WERE FURIOUS!!!!!! Mid June, they decided to fire us. No one had been evicted though. Thank God. No word back from attorneys, or Housing authority or anyone except the NAACP who encouraged us to keep up what we were doing. There were 90 units I think in this complex. We were filled to capacity.
Our son had come down from North Ga bringing his two small children and we had to tell him we just got fired. We were locked out of the office adjoining our apt. but they did something else against the law. They shut off the Air conditioning. They shut off the phone. I advised my son to take the kids to the beach that day. He did. My husband went into our area of the garage and turned the air back on but he then got boards and boarded up their ability to get into our apt. He locked the garage/maintenace area off from mgt from our side. This was going to get bad. I knew it and with two kids there.
The security guy went and asked the local cop (Barney Fife type ) to come down but no cops showed. The news spread that we had been fired. The person in our office area met up with 5 angry people who told him to leave us alone. The management fled. This is when the hell broke out. Trash cans were dumped. Dumpsters were set afire. Windows were broken and we stood on our patio and watched. In the midst of the mini riot. We watched. We sent our son and kids to my Mother's 150 miles away. We stayed. We did not leave our patio at all. My husband crawled up on top of the roof once to see what all was happening regarding the chaos. This was right above our patio. I stood and watched. I knew this was saying NO....We won't be treated this way. NO MORE... ENOUGH ! I stood and I watched. I watched the African American people who had been so wronged in the past feel empowered and I watched them put the chain back up where no one could come in or out . I watched another chain go up at the other entrance and no one could leave. I knew not what would happen. If the white population would go against the Black residents but no, they were united or not engaged. For the most part they all stood together against bigotry. There were no fights just anger. The police we heard back from the NAACP were afraid to come into the area the night of the outrage but a Dr. who was in charge of the NAACP held a meeting and told the people they had rights and no one was going to be evicted for not having a clean house. The chaos went on until the wee hours of the morning.
We were the only ones evicted THANK GOD !!!!!
We were served evicition papers the next day and we took our time moving as every resident came by and hugged us and brought us some little something. Upper management did not step foot on the property. The residents begged us to sue and we told them we were trying but not to worry about us as we had gotten another place. No one got hurt. No one was killed and it could have been worse but the guidance of the good Dr. from the NAACP and encouragement from others to stand strong paid off when it came to rights.
There were tears and hugs but that week in Woodbine, Georgia, there was justice. No longer would these fine people stay in their homes after dark. Not be free to walk where they pleased without harrassment. There was power in numbers and there was strength in unity. That is true today as I read about absentee votes being thrown out. There is strength in numbers.. GOTV, Don't be silenced. Stand for what is right.
There were no charges brought against us for boarding up our side and the locks were removed by us before we left. We tried to sue but the attorney said he did not want to have to fight this all the way to the supreme court and returned our evidence and it took me three years to dispose of all of that evidence. I did so with a heavy heart. I really don't know what happened to that management company but heard they went out of business.
I refer to that night as the night the lights went out in Georgia.
Many years later, Morris Dees sent me a most prized possession.. I will post it here soon.
A certification of appreciation for standing against hate with the SPLC and my name is engraved in the wall against hate in Montgomery, Alabama. I don't think the recogniztion was over this incident but the support I try to give on behalf of justice with the SPLC. That one certificate means more to me than any letter or award I have received and that includes the C-Span award.
I wrote this diary to tell you..Just say no to disenfranchisement, to injustice, and doing nothing is bad. Do something ! As my signature line says...Just do it.