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"To Spite Our Faces": article draft by Roosevelt Fitzgerald




1980 (year approximate) to 1995 (year approximate)


From the Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers (MS-01082) -- Drafts for the Las Vegas Sentinel Voice file. On the consequences of individual actions on others' votes.

Digital ID



man001024. Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers, 1890-1996. MS-01082. Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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It's been over twenty years but I remember it as clearly today as if it only happened yesterday. The story itself is not unique and I believe that is what makes it worthwhile telling. There's a darn good chance that each of you who reads this will recall a similar encounter in your own experience.
Long before I arrivoJhere, I lived in the small Mississippi delta town of Greenwood. I was not born there. I spent four years of my life teaching at a segregated school there. The combination of it being a small town and my being a school teacher with other job involvements not only made me fairly well known but somewhat envied.
Along with my responsibilities at school, I also derived some income from being a delivery man with a local cleaning establishment, I was associated with a small band of musicians, I managed a local hotel on a part-time basis and I hustled pool. I did all of these things because even then I was something of a workaholic in addition to having to partially support my mother and younger brother and sister back home in Natchez.
My cleaning route is what got the most attention of my outside activities. There were many black people who did not give me their business because they did not want to "see" me making all that money. Actually it was not a great deal of money involved but they preferred giving their business to a white delivery man who worked for the same cleaning establishment and thereby giving me "the business." The phenomenon was not new to me. I had observed it and experienced it all of my life. I lost no sleep over it and simply worked at developing new customers whenever and wherever I could. Those who shunned me and my efforts to turn a buck the most were other black school teachers who were too sophisticated in their education to take a job "beneath" them and who also knew my school salary and did not appreciate my having a greater combined income than theirs'. I should say, however, that whenever they
ran a "little short" and needed something cleaned, they would contact me and want me to "carry" them for a month or two. This I did. Whenever they would be "flush", however, they would call for the other guy who, incidentally, did not extend credit.
It was in late fall of 1963 when the event actually occurred. The new cars had been introduced in October and a local General Motors dealership had a raffle for a Pontiac GTO. It was army green with a black top, four barrell carburators, glass packs, dual exhausts and four on the floor. In short, for 1963/64, it was a real beaut.
I had a car already—a '63 canary yellow Corvette that moved faster than unattended loose bowels. I was a young man at the time and people rarely saw me anywhere even though they could hear my approach and my departure. I drove so fast it impeded improvement in language patterns. People would find themselves saying "here he goes" because when they would hear that engine roaring toward them and they would begin to say, here he comes," I would get there before the complete thought could be translated to a complete sentence and midway through they would be obliged to change tenses.
But, about that raffle, when the drawing took place one of my colleagues at school was the winner. There was joy in his "mudville" but not for long. He soon discovered that before he could collect his prize, the GTO, he would be required to pay the taxes and so on which amounted to just over $800.00. His salary at school was the same as mine: $232.37 per month. We only earned $3250.00 per year. He did not have $800.00.
I don't know if you remember what it was like back in 1963 for us—especially in the south and more especially in Mississippi. Most people didn't know anybody they could borrow twenty bucks from. People had to charge $15.00 re-thread tires at B.F. Goodrich and pay them off "on time." Anyone who misplaced a five-spot was out of lunch for a week. Five dollars could just about fill up
a gas tank.
He had so many days to generate the money and if he failed to do so, he would lose the car. He didn't even know where to begin looking for $800.00. On the day before the deadline I approached him with a proposition; I would give him $200.00 for his winning ticket.
"You must be crazy. That car, with all that stuff on it, is worth almost $4500.00."
"I know that."
"And you expect me to give it up for $200.00?"
"If you don't you won't have the car or the $200.))."
"What do you mean?"
"If you don't come up with $800.00 by tomorrow, you won't get the car."
"I know that."
"You got the $800.00?"
"So you're going to lose it."
"I rather lose it than see you get it for $200.00."
"It will end up costing me $1000.00."
"That still ain't $4500.00."
"I know that."
"You may as well let me get it than let The Man keep it."
"I'd rather The Man keep it than you get it for that."
Pride and stupidity is what it boiled down to. As I stood there and looked at him, I knew what he was internalyzing. He was certain that if he sold me his $4500.00 ticket for $200.00 all of his friends would say that was a dumb move. With his limited vision of reality, he was able to only comprehend personal gains or losses. He was unable to visualize the big picture and
the impact of his perception and his response to the overall. All he could
see was that I stood to possibly gain something and he was not about to let that happen. Heck, I would have let him drive the thing from time to time. We could have even set up a deal where he could buy the car from me for half the going price and he would still have come out ahead. The thing that he did not like was the fact that whichever way it went, I stood to turn a profit. To prevent that happening, he was willing to just throw the whole thing away—all or nothing. I don't know what it is called but there is something wrong with that kind of thinking in my estimation.
This scenario plays itself out with us time and time again. It does not always have to do with something as simple as the above. Every now and again, we find that it has to do with things which impact on more than just the individual. From time to time it can have far-reaching impacts on a small group or a large group of people.
In our quest for whatever it is that we're looking for, we must be evermindful of the on-going spiralling effects our actions have on others.
More than that, sometimes, what we do we end up being stuck with for quite a long time. It is true in our social relationships, our economic relationships and in our political relationships. Some short-sighted behaviors, we pay for for a long, long time.
By the way, don't forget to vote.