‘Touch me, Lord!’

THIS VIDEO, made in 1965, is very interesting to an old Southern boy like myself. From 1945 to 1951, I lived on my grandparents’ farm in southwest Georgia. Those grandparents were born in the late 1800s.

In 1951, my parents, my sister and I moved to Jacksonville, Florida, but we often returned to visit the farm. My mother was my maternal grandparents’ only child, and they were thick as the proverbial thieves.

My youth spanned the years between the old way of Southern life and the Civil Rights Era that exploded in the late ’50s and into the 1960s. I remember well when blacks sat in the rear of buses, went to “separate but equal” schools and had to kowtow to varying degrees before white people, including my young self.

My grandparents had two black servants who were a part of my early life almost as much as my grandparents were. It was a couple named Willie and Cap Williams. Willie was the housekeeper, and Cap was the gardener and handyman.

The earliest house I remember where Willie and Cap lived was a decrepit shack about half a mile down the dirt road from my grandparents’ large home. My grandparents were the owners of the shack. Around 1958, my grandparents built a new home for Willie and Cap that was directly across the street from our main house. It was a simple wooden affair but a huge improvement over the shack. The bath was indoors.

In the early 1960s, both Willie and Cap died in that house, first Willie and then Cap whom my father found one day lying on the floor. I don’t know the circumstances of Willie’s earlier demise. Both Willie and Cap were buried in the “Negro Cemetery” a few miles down that same dirt road.

Many years later, I went looking for that cemetery. I found it in a forest, covered in weeds, but I never found the graves of either Willie or Cap.

Looking back, I see a boy and later a very young man who took them for granted, so much so that I know nothing of their history or personal backgrounds even though we considered them almost part of our family.

Now I realize they were like part of the furniture, and that saddens me. Their graves are gone. They had no children. I suspect the people who remember them now can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

The video seems very familiar to me. In the black church near the video’s end, they’re singing, “Touch me, Lord.” I hope God is touching Willie and Cap. Lord knows we didn’t, not very well, not back then.