When we moved to Plymouth I was twenty seven years old and had spent all of those years in the North, therefore, I knew nothing about the South or the people who lived there. However, it didn’t take me long to find out that it was only recently that the war between the States had been fought and that some people were not real sure what the outcome of that engagement had been. I also discovered that there could be such a thing as a code of secrecy that would not be violated.
We had a janitor, in the turbine room, who was a young black man by the name of Ernest Sumner. Ernest was a fine young fellow who was married and had a couple of small children. Ernest got sick, one time, and was confined to his home. Those were the days before the “Great Society”, so when you didn’t work you didn’t get paid. As was the usual custom, when a fellow workman got sick, we took up a collection among the men in the power house.
I knew that Earnest lived in a predominantly black section of Plymouth known as “Cherry Hill” but I did not know just where. I was sure that I would have no trouble finding him when I attempted to deliver the proceeds of the collection, because, surely everyone in Cherry Hill would know Ernest. I couldn’t believe the blank stares that I got when I would ask someone if they could tell me where Ernest Sumner lived. The usual response was “Cap’n, I don’t know no Ernest Sumner.” Even when I told them the reason that I wanted to see him, they still didn’t know him.
It finally dawned on me that they knew Ernest, alright and they knew where he lived, but they didn’t know me, nor did they know what I wanted with Ernest, so they were not going to tell me anything. I took the money back out to the Pulp Mill and asked the boiler room clean-up man to give it to Ernest when he went home, that night.