Recently, with the Confederate flag being in the news, I recalled a time 48 years ago while growing up in Richfield. You see, I am pretty sure I am one of the few native Minnesotans who has kept a neatly folded Confederate flag in his closet all these years.
During World War II, my father was stationed here, married my mom at Fort Snelling, moved to Richfield and raised three sons. It was very different having a father who had grown up in Augusta, Ga. For one thing, all my friends called their fathers “Dad”; mine was always “Pop.”
For another, in the 1950s, every Jan. 19 this odd flag would be flying over our house. I would later learn that it was Robert E. Lee’s birthday. Years later, one of the neighbors told me they thought we might be communists, as the Red Scare was in full force at that time and they did not know what the flag was.
My pop was one of the finest men I have ever known. He took people as they were and judged them by their actions. He had many Southern sayings; one of my favorites was “if you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas” — in other words, pick your friends well.
In 1967, my sophomore class had about 900 people in it, and I believe there were two black students. An event happened that year that has stuck with me ever since: A mixed-race couple — a black man and a white woman — moved into the house directly behind ours. This was the year of bitter, violent race riots in the country, some of the worst the country had ever seen, and Plymouth Avenue in north Minneapolis was included.
The couple that moved in behind us had exactly one friend in that neighborhood, my pop (my mother and brothers had since moved to California). Pop and the guy would talk. It so happened they shared a mutual affection for barbecue using wood chips soaked in water. They shared different types of wood each had used with success. I remember at the time thinking nothing about it. Pop always treated everybody the same.
I happened to be home one afternoon when there was a knocking at the door. I opened it, and there stood our neighbor from across the street, Art, holding a clipboard. He asked if Pop was in, and I called him over. Art told Pop the neighbors were putting together a petition to get the new couple to move out.
Pop told him, “Look, Art, I don’t know if the man is good, bad or indifferent, but I sure as hell am not signing any petition against him.” I never heard any more about the petition. As I recall, we received far fewer Christmas cards that year. Two years later the couple moved out, after being fine neighbors.
Whenever I read or hear about Minnesota smugness toward a Southern state, I always think back to that time. A time when a mixed-race couple had the temerity to move into a lily-white Minnesota suburb in 1967, and a Southern gentleman who happened to fly the Confederate flag once a year befriended and defended them.
Wade Yarbrough, of Apple Valley, is a business owner.