Two weeks ago I visited the new National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. Interspersed among the timelines and photographs, the center includes vintage television sets that loop old broadcast interviews with George Wallace, Bull Connor, and others, all of whom say that (in the vernacular of the era) the Negro is an inherent threat to the white man and must be segregated from white society. The voices imply violence and fan fear. As one moves through the exhibit, the sounds of these voices are never quite silenced. They haunt; they distract; they needle their way into consciousness.
Joshua Wheeler grew up in eastern Oklahoma, just over the border from my home state of Arkansas.[i] That can be a hardscrabble part of the world, and it surely was for Joshua. His father was abusive, then left, and then died. His mother suffered her own plentiful demons and lived mostly on assistance. Joshua had three siblings, and at an early age it fell to him to keep the family together. Merely a boy himself, he got his siblings out of bed when they could not rouse themselves and changed the little ones’ diapers. He fixed their breakfast. He made sure they got to school. Joshua worked as soon as he could work, roofing houses and laboring on a blueberry farm. He hunted, not for sport but to put protein on his family’s meager table.