M.C. Robinson, 79, is a Bellwood trustee, a retired machinist and a proud son of sharecroppers. | Shanel Romain/VFP
Friday, March 24, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
I met M.C. Robinson, a 14-year Bellwood trustee, while passing out newspapers in front of the Bellwood Village Hall on Wednesday. Robinson, 79, was outside in the cold with a group of other people who were working the polls.
He eventually followed me inside and said that he remembers a time when blacks who wanted to vote had to pass impossible ‘tests,’ like guessing how many marbles were in a jar, in order to prove that they were fit for their enfranchisement.
He then started to talking about his parents, who were sharecroppers, and his life growing up in the Jim Crow South.
I came from Arkansas. I saw my first lynching, or a place where a lynching was, when I was 9 years old. My mother was taking me fishing with her and I was trying to figure out why anybody would build a fire around a telegram pole. I saw the sling up there, but you know, being 9 years old, you don’t know why a sling would be hanging down from a telegram pole. The fire had charred the pole.
So I asked my mother. My mother said, ‘You don’t need to know that.’
I came to Chicago when I was about 27 years old. Back then, my thinking was, ‘I’m a boy from Down South, I got to be a little better than the average guy.’ So I look in the newspaper and see how much these tool and die people made. I said, ‘Boy that’s a lot of money.’
At the time, I didn’t know the skill that went into that, so I went to trade school — the American Institute of Engineering and Technology on Racine and Fullerton [in Chicago]. I went there for two years. When I graduated, I went to work for FMC Link-Belt, where I took a four-year apprenticeship.
When I went back Down South, I was thinking about [the lynching place]. I asked my mom. I said, ‘Mom, was that a lynching?’ She said, ‘Yeah.’ She said, ‘C’ (she called me ‘C’), you were having trouble sleeping as it is.’ She said, ‘If I had a told you that …’
See, I used to have these reoccurring nightmares. [I would dream] of guys like the Ku Klux Klan coming and taking my brother out and I’m screaming and hollering and they dragging him out. This was way before Emmett Till, you know. I was born in 1937.
On his father and the word ‘mister’
My father and mother were sharecroppers. When I went to school, the sun would come out and they’d come and get us, the big kids, put us on the truck and take us to the fields.
This white guy whose place we lived on would bring my dad home sometimes and I’d be sitting on the porch teaching myself how to type. My dad would say, ‘MC,’ you ain’t got that book written yet?’ But see, I wasn’t writing a book. I was going to correspondent school. On the porch, I was studying my work.
Maybe 10 years ago, when I went back Down South, my father was dying from cancer. He told me, ‘MC, you know I used to call the people on my farm colored people, but I see on TV now they don’t want to be called colored. They want to be called black.’
I told him, it really don’t make no difference what you call a person as long as you’re calling them out of respect. I said, ‘I say mister to you now because of your age.’ In those days we were taught to say mister to everybody, black or white. If they were 10 years older than you, you said mister — except the whites.
A white person could be 3 years old and my daddy 50 years old and he had to say ‘Mr. Tim’ or ‘Mr. Walter’ or whatever. I used to tell my mother this. She used to say, ‘Be careful MC, you could lose your life.’ I’d say, ‘Mom, it’s a lot of people walking around here, they hard of speaking but they dead. They done stripped them of all their dignity. They ain’t got nothing — nothing but the physical ability to live.’
How would you like to be treated like you a boy and you raisin’ a boy?
I used to feel sorry for my dad but he did an excellent job. My dad had no education but he went to France in World War I. He was a hog butcher, a farmer, an electrician, a carpenter — all of that. You had to do that in order to survive on the farm. VFP