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The First Big Black Man, My Dad

Updated: Oct 19, 2020


Me and the old man. Circa 1977

It makes perfect sense that the first interview I conducted for "The Project" was with my very own father, Charles Lavant Greene I can remember that even at a very young age, I was resistant to discussions of idols because I thought my Dad was the man I was supposed to look to for inspiration in all things. As you may glean for this small snippet of a much larger conversation, the idea of looking to the men in our family has been with us for some time.

I have included this bit of the conversation because it echoes such an important chapter in the history of many, but not all, Black Americans. It is the story of migration, hope resilience, loss, and radical acceptance. I hope to share more of this interview in recorded form in the coming weeks and months, but for now, please enjoy this first posted interview from the Big Black Man Project.


Cheers.


C.L.Greene II

____________________________________________________


Charles Greene Sr.

Interviewee: Charles L. Greene

Age: 82. Place of Birth: Headland, Alabama

Sr. Vice President of Kent State University (retired) and Attorney at Law.

Current Location: Northeast Ohio


Interviewer: Charles L. Greene II

Executive Director, The Big Black Man Project.


Dad: We grew up without certain goods and things, but when we were in Alabama, we raised our own food. I didn’t even know what money was, and I didn’t even associate food with having a job because we worked a farm, and we had everything. When we moved to Ohio, people had to go off to work and only be gone for 8 hours. It was daylight when they came back. What did they do? I mean, where are you guys going to get food from? I literally thought that. Because my grandfather taught me that you had to reap what you sow I tied everything back to the act of getting grain in the ground. If you don’t do that properly and in time, then you won’t have a harvest. No cross, no crown. You are going to have some struggles in order to get the crown. Life’s not always easy, so just keep on keeping on.


So I was ready for any type of difficult situation. Even when my mother died, that was an awful time. That was just awful. I had said, “I don’t know what I would do if my mother died.” I don’t know why I said that because in six months she was dead. She wasn’t even sick. She just got sick. It took a long time to tell anybody else I loved them because the person I told that to died. And having been born a caul baby, with the visions and such, I thought I could make things happen.


Me: There is a question I always wanted to ask you about. Uncle Howard?


Dad: Uncle Howard. Should I tell you the story?


Now, this ties again into being Black in America. You know he was part of the Tuskeegee project? That’s why he never had a kid. He didn’t go to school or anything. He was also one of the brightest guys. I would be dead now but for him. He went and had a colonoscopy. And though he didn’t know the name of the word, he said, “Now Charles, you go and get checked because you might have some ‘poohlups.’” I said, “Uncle Howard, what’s a ‘poohlup’? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He said, “They check and make sure nothing is growing in your stomach.” I thought he must be talking about a colonoscopy. So I went and did it, and they found five polyps. They got ‘em out. I would be dead by now.


So he was very bright, and he managed to become trustful of doctors again. What are you going to ask me about him?


Me: So the story I always recall is that the Greenes became part of the great migration because of Uncle Howard


Dad: He and Uncle Edgar. Uncle Oscar, Uncle Freddy, Uncle Snook, all of them survived the War. So when they came back to Alabama, they were not the same person. You know, there were race riots following the war? And so Uncle Edgar, as he was returning from active duty, had to line up to get his clothes and things. Some 18 or 19-year-old girl says, “Boy, you better hurry! Hand me your things!” Before he realized that he had reacted, he backhanded her. Slapped her across the room. He turned around, with the uniform still on, and started running, and he’s never been back to Alabama since. He got Sarah up here in Ohio, you know, and married her up here. He had to run. And then Uncle Howard. You know he was crazy? He just wouldn't take stuff. And Snook and Freddie? They were the dangerous ones. Some people came and said, “You guys are really going to have to leave.”

My Great Aunts and Uncles. The Greenes

So there are always some decent people. We were told that people had some plans for them. So we loaded up in a ‘41 Buick. All of us. My mother was sick at that time, but we had to put her in that car and ride in the summer of 1949.


I remember there was a big snowstorm just before Christmas, and that your grandmother died just before Christmas. They had to take her back down to Alabama on the train. My father gave us all a dollar for Christmas, and he took off, taking my mother home.


My Grandmother

My Grandfather

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