LJ Spotts, 95
LJ discusses growing up in the Deep South, what we should be ashamed of, and accepting change throughout his life.
What was it like growing up?
Well, I grew up the best way that I could. Times were pretty tough. If I told you how I grew up, you wouldn't believe it. Some of the things that I had to do, I don't know how I did it. I had to work. Hard work. Your grandad doesn't know about hard work. They got the biggest of what they worked for, but I didn't get any of what I worked for. What little bit of money that I got, I reckon my parents knew they needed it for other things. I rode a bicycle five miles one way and five miles coming back for one dollar a day. That was my earning. There were grown men out there driving mules and things like that and I was working with them. I had mules, but I wasn't supposed to be getting what they were getting because I wasn't nothing but a child. My boss was watching and he said, "LJ, I see that you out here working around where just men are working. They ain't making, but a dollar a day. But if you keep your mouth shut, I'll give you a dollar, too. Don't go tell them. I'm going to give you a dollar and you can eat three meals a day at my table." I was only supposed to be making 50 cents.
Did you ever go to school?
Yea I went to the ninth grade, but I never went all the way through it. I had to work. The time I needed to go to school, they needed me in the field. Way back then, people didn't think that children like me were supposed to go to school.
I've tried to raise all of my children up in a certain manner. When you live poor, you ain't got no business being ashamed of it. We come into this world with nothing. All we had was our birthday suit. The richest person in the world just had a birthday suit. They didn't have nowhere to put nothing if somebody wouldn't have given it to them. So being poor is nothing to be ashamed of.
You know what there is to be ashamed of? Not trying to do better. It's a shame for a person to walk around and not try to do better. I used to tell my kids and young people, if you're stumbling, keep stumbling. It makes no difference how old you are because you're gonna fall. There's nothing wrong with it, but when you fall and you don't try to get back up, there's something wrong with you. Maybe you broke something or you gave up or figured that you can't.
My dad used tell me that there's no such thing as the word "can't". Who said you coudn't? You?! As long as you don't say that you can't, you can. The worst thing that can happen to anybody is when you're already doubting yourself and you have all these friends telling you that you can't. Pretty soon it'll get to you. You'll figure that you can't either. Nobody can stop you if you really want something. Don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't.
And don't ever discourage your children if you have any. You need to encourage them. I know younger generations think they are bigger. I thought big too until I started working. [laughs] My parents had to take everything I made in order to live. The only time that I was beginning to see the work that I was doing was when I left home at 16 years old. My dad kept up with me. I never sassed or cursed him out, but I did tell him that everytime I make money from work I would send them something back. That's what I did.
I believe that's what made him realize that I had grown up. You have to grow up. You can't act like a little child all of your life. The only people I feel sorry for is children who have parents that do nothing for them.
Throughout your life, how have to you determined the next right step in your life?
Well it's not so much about the right decision. I think that time changes things. I know of a lot of things happening now that if you would've told me 50, 60, 70 years ago, I wouldn't believe it. But time changes whether you know it or not. Everything changes. I would've never thought that we'd have a black president. Never. Under no circumstances. The reason was because I wasn't allowed to vote. It wasn't anyone, but white men. White women couldn't even vote. You wouldn't even see a white woman go into a voting booth. I used to say, "Well, maybe that's just the way it is. Maybe nobody worries about it." When I did get a chance to vote, I had to pay a poll tax. Y'all probably don't even know what that is. That was the only way to vote - by paying for me and my wife.
You've talked a lot about time and change, but how do you adjust to change? I think being young it's hard to accept and be open to change.
Do you remember how the President said, "Make America Great Again"? Well I've never seen it great. It's just now getting great. He says to make it great again, but it hasn't been great for everybody. It wasn't great for Black people and it wasn't great for White people either. I've seen white people look just like me. I was living in some environments that were better than theirs. I had to work though.
Every generation is getting better and better. Every generation will be different and your children will be different from you. Even the wind and moon changes. It's the way of the world. In my life, the only thing that hasn't changed is my bible.