Christmas in Albany GA – circa 1944

One of your favorite things to do was to go downtown with Daddy. He worked most of the time, so when he gave you a chance to go with him, downtown, it was a rare treat. On this particular day, he was going downtown to buy some special glue for his woodworking, and you had him all to yourself. As you were walking through the department store, all of a sudden, lo and behold, there was Santa Claus!

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You knew about Santa, of course, but you didn’t know that he came any other time except on Christmas Day. So this was a real surprise to you. You saw all the other kids in line to see Santa, you didn’t notice that they were all only white children, and you began to beg your father to let you get in line too. He made up all kinds of excuses and reasons to say no. “Oh, it’s almost lunchtime and Santa’s going to be going to lunch.” You didn’t understand why he was doing this. You knew you’d been good, and you just wanted to talk to Santa. When you started to cry a little, your father couldn’t resist. So, he let you get in line.

As you were waiting for your turn, the boy in front of you was telling Santa all these things he wanted. You only wanted one thing. Last year Santa had brought you a doll, and this year you wanted a doll carriage to put her in. You were thinking that this boy in front of you was so greedy, Santa was going to be unhappy and bring him a lump of coal. As you were thinking about what to say to Santa, you decided that you’d start by thanking him for the doll from last year. You figured this would get you in on Santa’s good side – being thankful first 🙂

So now it was your turn. Santa reached over toward you … and reached behind you to the girl behind you in line. This happened three or four times, and each time you began to feel smaller and smaller. As this was happening, you were trying to figure out why he was doing this. He brought you something last year. You knew you’d been good this year, and you knew Santa knew you’d been good – because Santa knows. Why was this happening?

Finally your father came and got you and rescued you. He tried to explain that this was not the real Santa; it was just someone he had hired to help him. But you wondered why Santa would hire someone who wasn’t nice.

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This is another of the stories told to me by Annette Jones White. The year was around 1943 or 1944, and the place was Albany, GA. Annette was five years old. She figures that her father was hoping that, because it was Christmastime, this store Santa might just be charitable, but it was not to be.

Do you remember your first experiences of seeing Santa? I can’t imagine a more stark contrast than the one between my experience and that of Annette. She told me this story as we were exploring why it is that she became involved in protests and direct actions as a part of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950’s and 1960’s. There will be more stories of this sort coming as I get them into writing.

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