I started my 7th grade year at Alba-Golden, a school I attended for all of my primary education years. However, entering my grade year, I became fascinated with sports, specifically football. I was already 5’9 and the size of a man (an odd experience for someone that age), and as I start playing for the 7th grade team in Alba something became painfully obvious: we were not going to be good. Alba had never had much success in football, so my family and I decided to find a better school to fit my needs.
I remember one day at the beginning of the school year, my (now former) stepfather came up to me with a question: “I think there are three different nearby schools that would be better at football: Emory, Grand Saline, or Lindale. Where would you like to attend?” That was such a hard question for a boy my age, deciding not only where to play football, but where to attend school, have friends, create a life. A friend of mine at Alba had recently transferred to Emory, which appealed to me because I would have one friend there already, and Lindale was a bigger school than all of the rest and might provide me more opportunities. While these two options enticed me, there was something about Grand Saline that lingered. I had heard stories of football glory in Grand Saline, knowing about their recent deep runs into the playoffs, so it really became an easy choice: “Grand Saline,” I told him. “I want to go to school in Grand Saline.”
I remember having a dream the day before I started school there. Though the town was home to only 3,000 people (not much bigger than Alba), I dreamed of massive Friday night lights in front of thousands of fans and being thrust into glory. The football imaginary captivated my subconscious. In my dreams, Grand Saline became a symbol of hope, a new light, the next adventure in my short life.
And I loved my hometown (yes, I claim it, though I was only there 6 years) and my upbringing there. Many of my best friends to this day are kids I met there. There was something comforting about living in a town where the front door is always unlocked and where I knew most of the townsfolk. I may have never achieved the football acclaim that I desired, but moving to Grand Saline was the right choice for other reasons, primarily a better education.
I say all this with a caveat, of course. My relationship with the town has changed greatly, as I have written about here and here. Most of this change comes down to the dissertation I just completed, where I extensively wrote on the history of Grand Saline, the self-immolation of Charles Moore, and legends of racism in town.
However, this blog post is not going to be me expressing my opinions on the town: rather, this is me coming from a different angle, from a space of reconciliation. I want to talk about how I have gotten to this point.
Over the past two and a half years, I have taken on two major projects in my life: 1) a 310 page dissertation that deals with the history and folklore of racism in Grand Saline and investigates the reasons why an elderly white minister, Charles Moore, self-immolated in town and 2) a documentary on this same subject that focuses more on interviews with town residents (and people from nearby communities). When I took up these two projects, I was met with immediate resistance. Many people felt I was trying to defame the town. I received backlash via emails, Facebook messages, and comments, which truly, honestly hurt. For awhile, these words overwhelmed me and hardened my spirit.
But I received other comments too, comments that took me much longer to process. I have had so many people come out of the woodwork, people from all across Texas and people who have moved from the Grand Saline area to other parts of America who have heard of my work or who have read my blogs and wanted to share their experiences with me. Looking back on it, almost every time I received public flak there would always be at least one stranger willing to reach out to me to share empathy. They shared the stories their ancestors told them about racism in Grand Saline, delved into their understanding of the folklore, and provided personal testimonies of racism that moved me to tears. I don’t think I valued these stories enough over the last few years but now as I reflect with a completed dissertation and film on the cusp of being finished, I realized how valuable those were in my reconciliation process: each of them, in one way or another, let me know that my experiences were not singular. There was a larger counterstory to Grand Saline being cultivated through these conversations that provided me a sense of hope.
Through writing the history of Grand Saline, interviewing Charles Moore’s family and friends, discussing racism with people in town and from nearby towns, and having people reach out to me, I have found some resolve in understanding my past mistakes and acknowledging how I, and others, can change the legacy of Grand Saline: through storytelling. Writing about this subject and having difficult, sometimes awkward conversations with people from town, provided me a voice, gave me agency. The conversations I was having with these people and with myself was a dialectic process, one where I truly believe the journey is more important than the product.
I have interviewed over 75 people for both the film and dissertation and have had so many more conversations with people on Facebook and through messaging. When I reflect on each one of these conversations, I see glimmer of hope. I see hope in people wanting to tell me about how their family has abandoned them because they have mixed children; I see hope in someone calling me a liar; I see hope in the individual who tells me my story is not too different from their’s. I see hope in that we had these conversations, and that I challenged them as much as they challenged me. There is hope in these stories be shared.
But we have to keep sharing them.
I hope others in Grand Saline will pick up the pieces of these conversations and have real, tough talks with one another (however trite that sentence might seem). It’s not easy. It’s not comfortable. It will not change you instantly, but it has the capability for systemic refinement. I think my own narrative of the past two and half years can be a testament to that.
I look forward to the release of the film and the eventual (fingers crossed) release of my book as well because maybe, just maybe, these narratives can be as transformative for others as they have been for me.