CAMDEN By PATRIC FLANNIGAN
Arkansas is considering renaming the basketball court at Bud Walton Arena to honor Nolan Richardson and in my opinion, it’s long overdue.
I’ve always loved Richardson because watching his teams during the mid 90’s with my dad were some of the best memories of my childhood; and secondly, because his serious, intimidating - but warm and approachable - demeanor was similar to that of my grandfather - James “Knot Knot” Pritchett, a WWII veteran.
I hate that my time with grandpa was so short, but he made the most out of it. He was a man of few words but had a wonderful sense of humor. He was known for being able to give speeches on short notice in church, and he never used a written speech. Everything he would say was impromptu. He was a family man and he loved this country… Even when this country didn’t quite love him back.
Grandpa joined the 92nd Division Artillery at Camp Joseph T. Robinson on Dec. 4 1942. This was more than 20 years before the Civil Rights Act. In 1944, He lost two friends when his division was shelled by Germans in Leghorn, Italy. Then in April of 1945, Grandpa and two others were charged with the task of climbing up a three-mile-high mountain at a 45-degree angle to lay telephone lines - a dangerous mission as the American and Japanese Infantry combat units were flanking the enemy. He reached the top after a 28-hour climb, and stayed in position - sleeping in a foxhole on rocks for four nights. After five days he was evacuated, but had developed physical disabilities that plagued him the rest of his days.
When he came home, Grandpa pleaded with the U.S. for assistance, not just for himself, but for his fellow vets. He was denied by the three-person board on numerous occasions - despite the physical evidence and supporting statement from his commanding officer and eyewitnesses. Grandpa loved America, but felt disrespected. He didn’t fight in a war just for black people, he fought for all people. “Knot Knot”’s stood 6’5 during war time, but measured in at 6’0 by the time he passed at the age of 75 in 1994. Grandpa “Knot Knot” would eventually pen his emotions and share them with a newspaper near his hometown in Fargo, Arkansas:
“‘When you get back from over there, we will treat you brave and fair,
“We’ll nourish and love with tender care.’ This was told to us everywhere,
“But now things have changed,
“Many thousands are dead and gone, their bodies lie in foreign homes,
“America’s heart can soften to a worth while foe, but her hero boys have no show,
“Her billions of gold can stay out there,
“While her soldier boys are fed hot air,
“America, continue to lag, some day again you may need us to defend the flag.”
His interview with the paper would eventually garner more support from the community and elected officials. While he wasn’t the main reason veterans affairs improved, I like to think he was a part of it. The treatment of our vets isn’t perfect, but it has drastically improved from the $50 Grandpa “Knot Knot” received in 1965.
Grandpa taught me that there were more ways to fight than with your fist. You can fight with your intellect. You can fight by enduring. You can fight by simply taking away the power your enemy thinks they may have over you. You can fight by smiling and, most of all, you can fight by loving. Another thing his life taught me is to always forgive, but never forget. There is no progress without persistence, so never cave in when someone that doesn’t know what it’s like to be in your shoes tells you to “just get over” an issue that you feel deeply about.
Earlier this week, the mayor of Maine found himself in trouble after referring to older black people as “antique farm equipment.” (Side note: I was once lied on and called a “Juneteenth folk” by a mayor, but apparently only eight percent of Camden’s population agreed.) A couple of weeks before that, an Alabama newspaper editor felt emboldened enough to say the Ku Klux Klan should ride again.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve encountered the fight myself. Two weeks ago, I received an email from a reader that thought I was too harsh on the Duke basketball team in a column. His response: “9 of their 14 players are black. Is that not good enough for you?”
I fought back with intellect, and he still hasn’t replied to what I emailed him back.
Fast forward to last week, I was in the office and overheard an elderly white man say: “There’s only two things in Camden; Fire ants and n….”
This time, I didn’t have to fight back because an office of people that shared his skin tone - but not his mindset - didn’t respond to his idiotic comments the way he hoped they would. Instead, he simply left the office in embarrassment.
The point of this column is not to make anyone feel guilty for things their ancestors did, but to point out that it’s 2019 and some people will still think less of you just because you aren’t like them. My daughter has to grow up in a world where she will be stereotyped and judged for no reason. What’s even sadder is that the majority of Ouachita County loves each other despite race or religion, but that gets overshadowed by the few cowardly bigots who pop out of the nest when they feel it’s safe to.
I’m glad I learned a long time ago that hate is the finished product of insecurities, short comings and a lack of self love.
I say all that to say this: The fact that Arkansas and Nolan have arrived to the point where they are today is an amazing story of forgiveness and triumph. It’s something that we could all learn from.