Quotable: John Ball on southern racism

Sam thought carefully for a minute before he asked his next question. “Virgil, I’m going to ask you something you aren’t going to like. But I want to know. How did they happen to take you? No, that isn’t what I mean. I want to ask you point-blank how come a colored man got all those advantages. Now if you want to get mad, go ahead.”

Tibbs countered with a question of his own. “You’ve always lived in the South, haven’t you?”

“I’ve never been further than Atlanta,” Sam acknowledged.

“Then it may be hard for you to believe, but there are places in this country where a colored man, to use your words for it, is simply a human being like everybody else. Not everybody feels that way, but enough do so that at home I can go weeks at a time without anybody reminding me that I’m a Negro. Here I can’t go fifteen minutes. If you went somewhere where people despise you because of your southern accent, and all you were doing was speaking naturally and the best way that you could, you might have a very slight idea of what it is to be constantly cursed for something that isn’t your fault and shouldn’t make any difference anyhow.”

Sam shook his head. “Some guys down here would kill you for saying a thing like that,” he cautioned.

“You made my point,” Tibbs replied.

–John Ball, In the Heat of the Night

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