Jay Harold asked if the American Dream was meant for him. In 1980, he got a summer internship working for a large government agency in the Quad Cities(1) area of Alabama. Jay Harold called a landlord in the area seeking housing and was told about the good features of an available apartment, including hardwood floors. He liked what the lady said, especially the hardwood floors. She verbally agreed to rent the apartment to him.
When he arrived in the Quad Cities, things were different than in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. He saw the Lions Club sign welcoming you to one of the cities. He also saw a sign right above the Lions Club sign stating that it was also the home of a prominent member of the Ku Klux Klan(2)!
When he meet the landlord, she said, “you fooled me; black folks say “flo” not “floor” here in Alabama!” Damn! When did “floor” disqualify a brother from housing?
The “Hardwood Floors” incident was the first time I, Jay Harold, truly became aware of how semantics(3) was used against African Americans. The subtle use of language to stereotype people was often used during this period. The landlord told me about the part of the federal housing act(4) that exempts housing under ten units from the anti-discrimination laws. She didn’t care if I rented from her, but I was told that the residents would. I didn’t know if she was correct regarding the federal housing law (four units or less is the law); the truth was Jay Harold was not welcome there.
Times are Changing for Everybody
Times were changing rapidly in 1980. The Civil Rights Laws were being enforced on a local level, and people naturally resisted them. The Jim Crow Laws(5) that ruled the South for decades were formally gone, but the attitudes remained. The fear of an unknown future, and thinking the worst of people whom you did not know, was a frequent occurrence in all racial groups.
My counselor rented a hotel room, and we pondered my options. We went to a Target store, and I saw an African American fraternity license plate on a car. It wasn’t my fraternity, but I left a note explaining my situation. He called and talked to my counselor about finding housing for me. I ended up rooming with a student from Tuskegee Institute in an older, widowed lady’s home.
I had a very good time there. The woman was intelligent and joyful. My fellow student took me to Atlanta, Georgia, Raleigh, North Carolina, and the Tuskegee Institute. I was exposed to different viewpoints on many issues in the black community and learned to respect everybody’s opinion. The love I received shows the strength of African American society.
The summer internship went well. I worked in a large power plant testing water samples. My job was to ensure that the water samples met safety standards. One of my supervisors was a part-time DJ, who loved music. He enlightened me as to how important Muscle Shoals(6) was to the national music scene. My first time in the Quad Cities was enjoyable, and the residents there are good people.
Hardwood floors symbolize life in many ways for Jay Harold. Sometimes the “flo” is rough and needs finishing. Many people in the African-American community will help you find a way to polish and smooth the rough edges. You must find a way to succeed.
William Ernest Henley’s Invictus(7) poem has been a great inspiration. The final verses are:
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
Jay Harold’s goal is to help you as others have helped him! It’s as simple as that.