Tribute to my dad and what he accomplished so many years ago.
If you will recall in 1964, the national civil rights legislation had been passed. The integration of schools and the workplace had just begun. Mississippi and its delta country were playing a significant roll in the racial tensions of the time. Extremists in the delta on both sides of the racial divide were trying to stir up trouble between the white and black populations in the delta town of Greenwood.
It is with that as a backdrop that in 1965 a man from Oklahoma packed up his family and moved to the Mississippi Delta to begin a new job training employees at a piano manufacturing plant. Within months of starting his new job setting up the training classroom, the manager of the mill room had health-related issues and was unable to work. The company reassigned the man to manage the mill room, beginning a seven-year odyssey of successfully supervising in a majority of the plants manufacturing operations.
We must look to the man's upbringing to understand how he was able to supervise a mixed-race workforce in an environment of racial tension. Growing up in Northeastern Oklahoma, he was a part of the melting pot of white and the native tribes such as the Quapaw, Wyandot, Miami. The hardscrabble country life of the 1930s and '40s brought the people together. His father was a good friend to the native Americans and would often attend their celebrations. This melting pot environment formed the ideal that we are all in this together, and that ideal carried forward into his adulthood.
Two main forces were working to upset the workers at the Baldwin factory. Extreme members of the civil rights movement were attempting to stir up discontent within the factory, and extremist white groups, including the KKK were using intimidation tactics against the factory managers because they were integrating the factory's workforce. Including blowing up the mailbox of the man and his family as a form of intimidation.
What kind of magic allowed the man to succeed despite the turmoil of the Mississipi Delta in the 1960s? In a way, it is a fundamental concept. He did not see the workforce as interracial but as a team that had a job to be done. Everyone needed to perform the task assigned to them. As such, he treated the workers as individuals and with respect. He worked with everyone to solve problems.
In retrospect, three items come to the forefront that allowed him to work in such a manner, his upbringing, he was an outsider to the racial issues of the delta, and a natural ability to work with people. He was rewarded with respect inside the factory and outside the factory by the people he managed. He often would be greeted by his black workers while out shopping or running errands. No small feat considering the time and the place.