This week I've been working with a 26-year old, college-educated, happily married black man in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He's not a Mason, but after noticing my Masonic ring, he struck up a conversation about Freemasonry. He knows a few Prince Hall Masons from Pennsylvania, men he went to college with.
After getting past the "do you guys really worship Satan?" stuff that had gotten into his head from too much Internet surfing, we discussed Masonry in an interesting and unique way, with him telling me some things he knows about the workings of Prince Hall lodges.
He also provided me with a unique perspective on what it's like to be an African-American in the South.
He lives in Georgia, right on the border with Tennessee, which is much more "integrated" than the lily-white county where I live in rural north Georgia. He asked how he could join a regular lodge in Georgia. We talked about how he'd never be allowed to do that because of the unwritten rules of racism here.
Granted, I've known him less than a week, but I've spent all day with him several days, and based on what I've seen so far, once I've known him the required time, I'd have no problem with signing his petition and recommending him based on his character.
He's as law-abiding as you or I, yet he's had much more interaction with the police than most of you reading this. Traffic stops, he says, have been and are so routine that he checks his brake and tail lights every couple of days, and always drives under the speed limit.
Once, he told me, sitting a stop light, he was approached by a police officer who told him he'd done a "random" license-plate check and discovered that the car he was driving was not the same color as shown in the records. The tag was on the proper make and model of car, but was light blue instead of white. He'd recently had the older model car repainted.
Apparently, this type of thing is fairly common when you're black in the South. Not being a cop or a black man, I wouldn't know.
But imagine how much worse it would be if the South had won the Civil War.
That's the premise of an intriguing 2004 film called CSA: The Confederate States of America. It's showing tonight — Friday, Oct. 10 — on the Independent Film Channel (IFC). Set your DVR to record it; parts of it you'll want to see more than once.
Imagine a world where the South won the War. Slaves weren't freed. Abraham Lincoln wasn't assassinated; he fled on the Underground Railroad, was captured, imprisoned and then exiled to Canada, where he died in 1905 lamenting that he had never "truly cared for the Negro." Jefferson Davis moved into the White House to run the country. Mexico and South America were eventually conquered by the CSA. America supported Hitler. Television programs and commercials were blatantly racist; you can even buy slaves from home shopping channels.
The movie is presented as if it's a British documentary about the history of America, and you get the feeling that you're watching it on a cheesy UHF channel late at night. During station breaks you're presented with news updates and local and national commercials.
Parts of the movie are high comedy and satire, but some of it is dead-on frightening in its depiction of institutionalized racism.
First in the alternative history of the nation, and later in news updates about current events, you meet a Kennedy-esque dynastic clan that has been involved in national politics since the Civil War. What happens to a fifth-generation senator with higher political ambitions is cruelly hilarious.
In this alternative world, blacks in America were kept subservient and uneducated; this point is counterbalanced with interviews with educated blacks from England and Canada, discussing the state of their brothers and sisters within the CSA borders.
I hope you get a chance to see this film. You can watch a trailer here.
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