“Well, if anybody’s mean to you you’ve got to be nice to them” (Hall 13).
This quote is spoken by James Hall in his interview with Gregory Hunter at Duke University. Hall was explaining that, after he had bought sixty acres of land, he was having trouble with James Bachelor, one of the white farmers who owned the land on the other side of his fence (11). Hall said, “my cows got out and he [Bachelor] got out in the road and he drove them in his pen…to get my cows, twenty-five dollars, that’s what I had to pay him” (12). But then, when a similar incident occurred and Hall had Bachelor’s cows on his land, he didn’t ask for any money and simply gave the cows back.
I chose this quote because as soon as I read it, it truly resonated with me. I think when someone is cruel to you, the first instinct is to resent them. To scowl at them whenever they pass by you or take any opportunity to get little revenges. Even just picking them apart at every opportunity, like Bachelor did when he “said that James Hall over yonder, he’s crazy” (11).
Hall was in an even more difficult predicament than most, though, because he was very limited in what he could do in the Jim Crow south. Any kind of open retaliation might have caused him harm or cost him his life. Indeed, he did face a great deal more opposition doing absolutely nothing, with people killing his animals, burning crosses on his yard, and even putting a bomb in his mailbox (20-21). It was fair to be charged for dealing with animal issues (12), but it’s also true that politeness might have been his best option when faced with Bachelor to avoid further danger.
What struck me, though, was that that wasn’t how Hall framed his decision. He didn’t say, ‘I did what was best to avoid another blowing out’ or ‘he wouldn’t have given me the money anyway.’ He said, “if anybody is mean to you you’ve got to be nice to them” (13). Even in such an uncertain and frightening time, he still believed that kindness was the way to go. I think that speaks even more the power of his sentiment, that he could hold onto that idea despite the time.
I have definitely had people treat me poorly throughout my life, and while I never retaliated, I did hesitate to send kindness their way. Hearing about Hall’s experience certainly gives me less of an excuse. Maybe we don’t have to love or support everyone, but maybe continuing to be polite and respectful can go a long way. It may be difficult, and I’m certainly not trying to say you’re a horrible person if you are unable to face certain individuals who’ve wronged you. I’m also not trying to say that marginalized people, for example, have any sort of obligations to aid their oppressors. I do think, though, that kindness is how we might see some changes. Simple acts or words may not create better people, but surprises can still happen. Bachelor did end up relenting about James Hall, “he’s tell to be a little better than I thought he was” (14). And even if we aren’t expecting people to change, it’s still better to be kind than spiteful.
What are some ways we can work with those we disagree with the most?
Class Discussion and Impact:
Lots of us (including me) had the same quote for our QCQs, which amusing, but I like that we all had slightly different takes on it. Several said Hall not asking for money was more about being the bigger person or showing independence and strength. I hadn’t thought of that, though I suppose it’s somewhere along similar lines. Myself and others said it was more about the golden rule and a general kindness (“kill them with kindness”). My perspective has been enhanced somewhat, but I still stand by my reasoning. I also enjoyed the documentary because I really had no idea that Boston had been so against integration. It really makes you challenge the stories that get told about the North and the South.