It is 1976.
I am embarrassed to admit this. Mark Walker and I decide to go to a book signing by Alex Hailey, author of ‘Roots’, as a goof. It’s an excuse to ditch school. I never ditch.
Hailey is at the Sears on Crenshaw. We know Crenshaw – it’s right off the 405 freeway in Torrance. We picture some South Bay mall. We exit the 405 and the addresses are way off. We keep driving.
We leave the South Bay, cross Slauson and enter South Central. The Sears store has a line around it, black men and women laden with copies of Hailey’s book.
Did I mention that Mark and I are white? We are from a white neighborhood. The first black family moved in when I was in 6th or 7th grade. Dr. Ira Jones became president of the PTA.
A black colleague describes me as ‘the whitest white guy’ he’s ever met.
Mark and I purchase copies of ‘Roots’ in the store. Hailey sits at a table, takes his time with each person. No stamp. No sticker. He signs every single copy. We go outside and get in line.
The people around us all have plastic trash bags full of books. They average 20 copies. They are getting them signed for their children, for their husbands and wives, for their mothers and fathers, for family members and friends.
We are there all afternoon. We make it around one corner of the building. It is obvious that we are not going to get our copies signed. Then one of our teachers walks past. We aren’t the only ones who ditched school for this. She takes pity on us. Her position in line is now entering the store. She takes our copies, adding them to her own stack.
This past summer there was no ‘Roots’ for black people to embrace. They embraced Black Lives Matter. My white conservative friends point to Jason Riley’s piece in the Wall Street Journal calling it “The great lie of the summer” like they’ve discovered a secret of the Illuminati. He is perhaps the whitest black guy in the country.
He was five the summer of ‘Roots’. I wonder if his mother bought him a copy.
Black Lives Matter