There is a theater at Kings Dominion amusement park called the Flintstones Follies Theater. It is an outdoor sort of thing-- bleachers and stage where on this particular day a group of singers is singing popular songs from television commercials. Four of the performers are black, the rest are white and the audience, of course, is integrated. The revolution had come.
I am sitting in the bleachers. This is your basic amusement park audience. It is overweight and smokes too much. It wears cut-offs and knockdown versions of brand name running shoes and the men, lots of them anyway, are bearded with long hair. They are the last to know that long hair and beards are out. They were also the last to know when they were in but they were the ones, we were once told, who would fight to the death before they would sit at a show with blacks. They said it would take a revolution.
The audience is enjoying the show. It is attentive. When the singers break into a country western song, the audience really comes to life. Hands clap. Blacks and whites together clap out the music. This is their music. Twenty-five miles away is Richmond, the capital of the Old Confederacy and then, almost 100 years later, the capital of Massive Resistance.
The heat here is awful and the humidity worse. I am bloated with sweet, guilt-inducing foods. The show loses my attention and I think of what has happened here. I remember the first time I came through this area. It was in the mid-1960s, a good 10 years after the 1954 school desegregation decision, but it was like the Supreme Court has not said a word on integration.
We had come through by car-- an old Buick, one of those with portholes on the side. It was owned by an old man who needed someone to drive the car to Miami and so we-- two friends and I-- volunteered. Outside of a trip to Washington as a kid, this was my first trip south and I was apprehensive. We had all heard stories about what happened to people in cars with northern license plates, stories about beating and lynchings and other strange and horrible things. It was like going to a foreign country-- a menacing one at that.
The civil war battlefields came first. We came upon them in the dark, at night, wanted to stop the car and get out-- walk into the woods with only my imagination lighting the way, seeing the Union and Confederate dead, and recreate those horrible battles where technology outstripped tactics, where the intensity of fire was so great that the forest burned and the wounded with it. I wanted to get out and walk, but the others, impatient for the Miami Sun and the Miami women, would not stop.
So we barreled on. The Buick was slow on the pickup but it could go 90 like it was coasting. It moved like a ship-- silent and heavy and soon we had zoomed around Washington. Up to then, it was the farthest south I had ever been. My father had taken my sister and me to the nation's capital and I remembered the signs-- the ones that said "colored," I had asked my father about them but he, as mystified as we, gave us the universal explanation for such things-- "It's the South." Ah, yes, the South. The South, as we all knew, was different.
We took turns sleeping and the old Buick never stopped. Finally, we pulled off the road at one of those "welcome" booths-- one of the Carolinas or maybe Georgia. Inside, I remember was a display about cotton and a cotton plant. I studied the plant-- it was the first I had ever seen and I looked the thing over as if it were a moon rock. Inside the booth, also, were two water fountains -- a white one and a colored one. I stared at that also and thought for a moment of drinking from the colored one-- show them where I stood. I didn't, though. I drank from the white one.
There was a young woman behind the counter handing out brochures and answering questions. I looked inside the brochure and read that there were colored state parks and white state parks. I remember looking down at the list and then at the girl: "Colored parks?" I said to the girl. She nodded. "Colored trees and colored squirrels and colored deer?" She made no comment. You could tell that I was not the first wise guy en route to Miami to give her a hard time.
This was not that long ago. This was 1963 or 1964 and still the South stood firm, more or less, passively resisting what the Supreme Court of the United States kept insisting was the law of the land. Back then it seemed that things would never change. The Byrds of Virginia, bless 'em, said so and so did other politicians and newspaper editors who are now respected for their sagacity but who were blind for failing to understand that people can accept change-- for selling their own people short. This is happening now again on energy and what you feel like saying is, "Remember, give us a chance."
So I sit now watching the show. Twenty-five miles away is the capital of the Old Confederacy and not so far away Lee surrendered to Grant. The accents all around me are redolent with the South and on the stage blacks sing and dance with whites. In the audience, blacks and whites are clapping hands. It is hot. It is humid. Eveveryone wants a beer. Has anyone noticed?
The revolution has come.