You’ve been doing it since you were a teenager, maybe before.
A certain look sideways, eyes lowered. Unconscious flex of muscles beneath a flashy T-shirt. A smile, a glance, a wiggle of hips or lips or brows.
Where would you be without a little flirting? Married? Hooked up? Maybe not. But attracting the opposite sex is how our species perpetuates.
Flirting is fun. You would never in a million years think it could get you killed.
But in the new book, “Simeon’s Story” by Simeon Wright (with Herb Boyd), you’ll read about a wolf whistle heard ’round the country.
Growing up in Mississippi in the Jim Crow era, Simeon Wright knew that there were certain things a Black person never did; specifically, he was never remotely disrespectful to anyone who was White. Sassing “Mr. Charlie” was a good way to get in trouble.
Wright learned from his father that some White people could be trusted, though. Mose Wright was a sharecropper. He knew who was fair and who wasn’t.
Simeon Wright indicates that he had a good childhood, despite Jim Crow laws. His parents loved him and he had a big, extended family. In fact, when cousins were scheduled to visit Mississippi from Chicago, Wright “was so excited that I didn’t know what to do.”
One of those cousins was 14-year-old Emmett Till, a big-for-his-age boy, almost the size of a grown man. Everybody called him Bobo and he was fun-loving, but Wright remembers that “he just didn’t know the rules.”
On the afternoon of Aug. 24, 1955, his lack of knowledge sparked a movement.
After a long day of work, Wright, Bobo, and three other boys went to a nearby store for some refreshments. For about a minute, Bobo was alone in the building with a White woman and as she stormed out, he brashly whistled at her. Days later, as Wright slept next to his cousin, two White men entered the family’s house and snatched Emmett “Bobo” Till.
In his foreword, Wright’s co-author Herb Boyd explains that this story almost didn’t see publication. There were things that Wright didn’t care to remember, but he eventually agreed to lay some nasty myths to rest.
And with crystal clarity and blistering prose, Wright does just that.
He tells of youth interrupted by something so horrific that it hurts to read about it. He speaks of his father’s dignity and bravery, and of deep disappointment that was eventually soothed.
Surprisingly, you’ll probably find this book in the YA section of your library or bookstore, but don’t let that deter you from this powerful, important memoir. “Simeon’s Story” is a story you must read.
(“Simeon’s Story” by Simeon Wright (with Herb Boyd) c.2010, Lawrence Hill Books, $19.95) $21.95 Canada, 144 pages, includes index.)