Friday, May 8, 2015

Bill Cahill Meets Jim Crow

Blog # 23

Bill Cahill meets Jim Crow

1936 or 37

The reports of police and security guard brutality and shootings of black people have brought to mind a story from my family. My Grandfather, who related this story to me was chief engineer on a freighter in 1936 or 7. My father, pictured above, was a wiper-the lowest guy in the engine room of the same vessel. 

When the ship docked in Savannah, Georgia my father went ashore to buy some snacks and walk around a bit. He entered a grocery store run by Greek immigrants and was immediately challenged by the store owner and told to go outside and come around to the "negro entrance". Dad refused and the police were called. According to both my dad and grandfather dad was arrested and told to go to the station with the officer.

Dad said that the Savannah police officer told him, "We know how to deal with you northern niggers. You're going to Farmer Brown's pea farm," Evidently this was a euphemism for the "chain gang". Things got nasty then and my dad punched the officer, took his gun and threw it in the canal and ran back to the ship. 

When the police showed up at the ship, they were met by the Captain who told them that under maritime law, they needed to have a U.S. Marshall to board the ship. According to my dad, Grandpa was stationed above with a rifle and was prepared to start a shooting war if they forced their way onto the gangway.

The cops came back with a U.S.Marshall but found my father had disappeared. The Captain had sent him out a seaward hatch and a launch carried him to an outbound ship where he became a part of a crew headed for the Panama Canal and home. Had my father not been a good fighter and a fast runner, It's not likely that I, and the rest of my siblings, would be here. He would not have survived captivity.

Afternote: A few years ago my wife Narda and I were in Savannah. I went to the waterfront to try to recreate the scene I had pictured from the stories. There, at 5 E River Street, where the store had been described, was a Greek Restaurant called the Olympia with a sign indicating it had been there since the mid 1930s. 

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