Daddy said I could hire Barack, but never give him the checkbook.
Daddy didn't like colored people because that's how he was raised in the South, he didn't know that not liking colored people was out of fashion, even in his hometown. Daddy thought most blacks should be washing cars in town and off the streets when the sun went down. It was an old way thought and Daddy never gave it another thought.
Grandpa taught Daddy to count his money and keep an eye out for the Negro because they're mostly bad news, even though many went to church and could roast a pig better than most. When Daddy's home boiler went out last winter the repair company sent a black repair man which worried Daddy, he stayed at home with mother until the colored man loaded up his truck and left. Daddy knew you had to watch them because they tended to steal stuff they couldn't afford and always had leanings toward White woman.
Daddy pushed away from the lunch table inside our small furniture factory and told me to do what I wanted, hire coloreds if you want, you have the college brain boy. "You keep him away from the girls in the finish room and make sure he don't smoke with all that dust around." Daddy simply never trusted a black man except one that I know of, the mechanic at the gas station could work miracles on Daddy's car and he was always smiling happy.
Well, I hired Barack and sat him down the following Monday and gave him our home spun work rule book and policies and told him to report to the production line and not to forget his eye and ear protection.
Barack seemed to pay attention and he was really smart and he didn't have that Negro talking problem, that should help him with Daddy.
Barack did really good the first week and his boss, my younger brother, gave him good marks and said he was seemingly smarter than most coloreds. Only problem that my brother reported is that Barack didn't like to work overtime because he had a wife a two little girls at home. We didn't want to work late either, but that's not how things work in the real world.
Barack worked smart and hard but about the third week he was getting a little bored so we bumped him around to the lathe shop where some great wood craftsman made the more complicated parts. The men there reported that Barack worked well but his arithmetic needed work.
My younger brother said Barack was doing good.
My Daddy said the new colored boy was doing bad.
Daddy signed all the payroll checks after mother wrote them out and he waved me over to his office desk and pointed at Barack's paycheck.
He talked and pointed at the same time. "Who said Barack was worth $15 and hour?" Daddy doesn't raise his voice because his eyebrows do all the work.
I told Daddy that we agreed that Barack would be paid the hourly wage set out inside our pay schedules. Daddy signed the check and handed it to me and said he ain't ever seen a black man worth fifteen dollars an hour, never.
I took Barack's pay check and tucked inside my coat and went back to the production floor and by accident I bumped into Barack leaving the men's room.
I handed him his paycheck and he smiled with that famous smile and told me thanks and went back to the lathe shop. For the life of me I couldn't see why Daddy didn't like Barack, colored or not.
If I had to guess, it was about three weeks later that Barack knocked on Daddy's office door and requesting a meeting.
Daddy said "Sure Barack"
Daddy picked up the phone and paged me to the office not knowing that Barack was sitting on my desk holding a conversation with Daddy.
Barack looked back to Daddy after he nodded his hello to me.
"You see, $15.00 and hour is good money but $30.00 an hour with benefits is much better!" Barack shifted around a little and was sipping the cold coffee Daddy had poured.
"Mr Lenoir, if you don't give us the money by next month the men are going to organize a union and then we'll want $50.00 an hour and three weeks vacation."
Daddy leaned back in his chair and his eyebrows told me his thinking without him uttering a word.
Daddy spoke up "Barack what I want to know is what you know about furniture building and have you ever sold any?"
"No Mr. Lenoir, I know little about furniture building but I know a lot about furniture buying, you make a lot of money."
"No Mr. Lenoir, I'm not an expert on furniture and I just learned that a Queen Anne is a chair style but I do know that chair we build sells for about six hundred dollars and it cost you about fifty bucks to build."
"Also Mr. Lenoir the men know you live in that big home over the river while we rent rooms and make arrangements to car pool to work."
"Now Mr. Lenoir you can make agreeable arrangements with me and I'll stay out of the furniture business but I can also tell you that I'm the only Negro in the factory, which is curious as your town is about thirty five percent Negro."
Daddy didn't like the colored boy's tone as my father was not only reputable but he was most likely the fairest man in town and never bounced a check, never cheated his reputable dealers and made great wooden furniture with assured quality.
Daddy leaned up "Barack, I want you to concentrate on furniture building and let me worry about pay scales and profits." "Our furniture combines good taste, enduring quality and beauty so your long career life here depends on your cooperation and quality production." Daddy leaned back in his chair again and picked up a Walnut chair leg and pointed Barack to the door.
Barack stood up and walked to the office door but delivered his last point. "Mr. Lenoir, the only way you stay in business, without workers and enjoy your mellow white wealth and white privilege life is to come up with a pay scheme or enjoy a charming union."
"Mr. Lenoir, my daddy taught me about how to distinguish a son-of-a bitch and what to watch out for." "He also taught me how to distinguish a simple American Walnut chair leg and that club your holding." "I thank you for your time Mr. Lenoir."
About two weeks later the Industrial Board walked into the factory and presented their state inspection badges.
They were there to fight the invisible enemy of furniture workers so these scientific sleuths took air samples, water samples, talked to about a dozen workers and told them they were there to protect them from the never ending killer of sawdust, the insidious and deadly menace blown by the factory fans everywhere.
The Industrial Board wrote Daddy out a citation of sorts and gave the entire factory a failed rating, sawdust everywhere. There was no fine if we made the improvements required by the brand new Industrial Board County Regulations that had only been on the books for three working days.
Daddy must have looked over the little booklet of regulations for an hour that had just been passed by the county. How in the hell can you make furniture without dust? Daddy tossed the citation on his desk and left for the day. I couldn't tell if he was mad but his walk was faster than normal.
Barack was leaning against Daddy's car.
Barack was wearing his million dollar smile.
Daddy wasn't in the mood.