THE HITCHING POST
All Original Written and Photographic content is Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
What an amazing photograph, so sharp and clear! Gazing at it enables me to see the house that I grew up in, as well as my childhood, once again. It feels, almost, like being there. Where has this photo been hiding, all these years? Looking through my father’s stereo views, the other day, I discovered that he once stood beside the house on Seven Mile Road, and panned across his domain, taking several shots in order to cram “everything” into the camera's tiny lens. I was able to Photoshop four of these minute images together to recreate this panorama. It carries me back to happier days, in a way few photos, before it, ever could. And brings to life a flood of memories, mostly good.
I estimate that it was taken in about 1952. I can date it by the lack of awnings on the windows, and the presence of the Hitching Post. Ah, there’s the hitch! An element that, by today’s standards, would be enough to spoil the picture, enough to make me think twice, before I dare to post it here. Should I use the magic of Photoshop to make it disappear?
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What does that object indicate? The fact my father was a bigot? No way! It does remind me that he was naive, innocent and pure of spirit. This state of grace came at a price. The hitching post taught him a lesson, a lesson that was hard to learn, for him, and took a long time to sink in.
Soon after the Second World War ended, the movie "Song of the South" appeared. Its post slavery vision of romanticized race relations, were seen through rose colored glasses. That is why the film is virtually banned today. Yet, it was a film devoid of hate and anger. Some, accuse the movie of “sugar coating” slavery, although, the Civil War was over by the time the story takes place. It portrayed warm hearted people, who, to a large degree, were “color blind”. My father, Sam, was one of these. His hitching post was no more racist, to him, than if he had a statue of Brer Rabbit in the garden. He just thought it was something attractive, friendly, and welcoming.
So he was shocked when someone, passing by, in the dead of night, knocked it over. He picked it up, the following day, and made a concrete base to hold it upright more securely. A few weeks later, someone stole it, altogether. My father soon replaced it with another. This time, he was determined to foil the robbers, so, he, not only, bolted it to the concrete base, he also bought a heavy chain.
If you look carefully at the photo, you will be able to see that in his hand, the jockey holds a ring. This was originally intended as a place to tie up horses. To this ring, Sam hitched the chain, wrapped it around the figure's leg, and secured the other end to an iron rod, buried deep under the ground. Thus, he, not only, had what, to some, was a symbol of slavery, but to make it worse, it was in chains. This symbolism did not occur to him. Oh, Pop! You did it again!
It wasn’t long before the new jockey, too, was attacked. A would-be robber dislodged it from its base, but the chain held! Meanwhile, my father thought that these assaults were the result of people liking his hitching post, so much, they wanted to own it, even if they had to steal it.
Then someone suggested, to him, the possibility that what was happening to his hitching post was not the result of admiration, but rather, anger and aggression, born out of the fact that the figure was black. My dad had never thought of that.
And, when this was pointed out, Sam, naturally, assumed that the attacks were coming from white people, who did not like blacks. That’s how innocent and naive he was. It never would occur to him that it might be the other way around. Half a century ago, one could still think that way. How times have changed! Would any man, white or black, dare to place such a thing, outside their house, today?
Just as he had overcome bigotry in Berkley, Sam, having, at last, assessed the situation, came up with a simple solution. He purchased a small container of white paint; not white in the Caucasian sense, being a shade of pink, but white-white, kitchen appliance white. In fact, that’s what it was, kitchen appliance touch-up paint. It came in small bottle made of glass, with a paintbrush built right into the cap. And my dad sat down, in the meticulously cut grass, and painstakingly painted his jockey’s hands and face, dead white. And dead is how the figure looked. To this, he added blood red lips. And, in the end, this ghostly apparition, standing alone on Seven Mile Road, looked very much like Dracula! But there it stood, and there it stayed. Sam, once again, had saved the day, and outfoxed bigotry, in his own way.
One night, a few years later, someone smashed the white-faced jockey to smithereens. My dad, undaunted, bought another. But, this time, he had “learned his lesson” and chose one that was Caucasian, in form, as well as color. It can be seen in this last photo. It even matched the newly added awnings.
After my father passed away, my mother sold the house to a black family. The property has changed hands several times, since then. I wonder what happened to Sam's "politically correct" jockey. Recent photos indicate that it is no longer there.