Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry
Sheriff “Popskull” Watkins was a poster boy for corrupt southern law enforcement in Georgia during the turbulent 60s. His good ‘ol boy charm was only present when he was around Whites. The genial smile disappeared when dealing with Blacks, who in his beady mind, were dumb brutes to be kept in line.
One morning ‘Popskull” whose birth name was Dewey, was driving his official police car down a rough country road when his front right tire blew! He bumped along on the rim for a hundred feet before finally coming to a stop in the middle of the crude dirt road. Because he seldom got any exercise (and ate like a starving black bear), he was overweight and had high blood pressure.
He grudgingly got his girth out of the car, took off his straw Stetson, and wiped a river of sweat from his forehead while looking at the flat tire in utter disgust. He was a long way from town. At least a two-hour drive. There was no way around it. He’d have to change the tire. Something he hadn’t done since he was 17 years-old running moonshine with his cousins. It was during that time he earned the name “Popskull” because he always delivered the best moonshine in the valley, and he could out drink an adult.
As he opened the trunk to get the jack out someone said, “Can I help you, sir?”
Surprised, he wheeled around and reached for his gun.
“No need of that. I’m just offering to help you,” the Black man said.
Relaxing, Popskull asked, “What you doing out here boy? No one lives in these parts.”
“Did you bump your head on the steering wheel when the tire went? Sounds like your vision isn’t quite right. I’m, no boy. I’m an adult college professor.”
“Don’t you go sassing me now boy! Where did you get that fancy suit?”
“It looks like it’s time to give you an education, Mr. Popskull Watkins. You may call me Professor Lincoln.”
Popskull moved angrily towards the professor who took a small device out of his jacket and pressed a button. That was the last thing Popskull remembered before waking up wet on a well-trimmed front yard with sprinklers noisily doing their job. He looked over to the front of the house and saw the professor sitting on a chair and drinking what looked like Long Island tea in a tall thin glass.
He awkwardly got to his feet and looked around. The professor held his glass up and gestured for him to come over. He walked up to the porch and sat down on a chair near the professor who acted like it was perfectly normal for him to be sitting there soaked to the gills.
“I trust you’re okay? The first time someone goes through the transition it can cause disorientation and even a bad headache.”
“Where the hell am I? What’s going on?”
“Yes…I understand. So many questions, and so little time to answer them all. For now, you’re in the future. It’s January 2008, and the country just elected the first African-American president, Barack Obama.”
“African-American? You mean Black? There’s no way this country would let a darkie run it!”
The professor sighed and handed him a copy of Time Magazine, and a current newspaper. Popskull looked at them skeptically, but the professor could see the mounting panic in the corner of his eyes as he looked them over.
“Please, step inside, and I’ll get you something to drink and you can watch the TV.”
Groaning, Popskull stood up and stretched his aching bulk and followed him inside. There were two leather lounge chairs in the living room directly across from a big screen TV. The professor told him to pick one while he got him a cup of coffee. When he returned, Popskull was watching the TV with his mouth open in obvious awe.
“Look at the color! It looks real! Is this something I can look forward to getting in the future?”
“That, and much more. I’m glad you know where you are now. There’s more things I want you to see. But drink your coffee right now, and we’ll go to breakfast after this news segment is over.
When they got out of the professor’s new Cadillac, and walked up to a restaurant, Popskull stopped outside the front door.
“I reckon there’s a side entrance for you.”
The professor opened the front door and a white maitre d’ meet them with smiles. Popskull couldn’t believe his eyes and numbly followed the waiter they were assigned. He suddenly felt terribly out-of-place in his sweaty sheriff’s khaki shirt and pants. He had no idea what happened to his hat. Looking around he could see people of all races dining comfortably. The meal was the best food he’d ever had. When they returned to the professor’s house he was full and relaxed.
“We’ve only got one more day, and there’s still a lot I want to show you. I suggest we go to bed early. You can sleep in the guest room downstairs.”
That night Popskull had nightmares. He saw men in white robes (his fellow Kluxers) hanging a black man from a tree and setting him on fire! They were dancing around the body like devils frolicking in hell. He was glad when morning finally came.
The next day they went to the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina. The professor gave him a tour, like the ones he given to many others, and explained how the world changed from 1960. He realized that he was a racist because it was all he knew. He was raised that way. He grew up with stories of his ancestors fighting for the South’s rights. He grew up in a black and white world where there was no respect for people different from him.
When they went back to the professor’s house Popskull was conflicted. He didn’t think he was a bad man. But after seeing the things he did with the professor, he realized he couldn’t keep living a life degrading others, and told the professor that. The professor smiled and pulled out the same device he first saw him with…and pushed the button.
After Popskull changed his front tire he pulled out a sealed mason jar from under the front seat and took a few healthy swigs. His world was turned upside down. When he got back to his office he saw an old black man sitting in a chair in the corner, obviously being ignored by the staff.
He went up to him and asked, “Can I help you…sir?”
That was the day his staff, and folks in town, thought Popskull lost his mind.
As It Stands, awareness of other races history is one way to fight bigotry.