Randy’s Story: The Quarterman Legacy Through My Eyes
I was raised in Japan, and my family believed in the “Bushido way of life” which has eight virtues:
Justice: Justice is a core value of the Samurai. Incorporating the Bushido principle of justice into your life requires reflecting on what is fair and upholding the value of upstanding moral character.
Courage: Courage, like justice, entails deciphering what is right and wrong. Courage requires the strength not only to perceive but also to act.
Compassion: Compassion is the ability to manifest love and sympathy through patience. It also requires attempting to see the world from the perspective of another. This is an especially important trait for those in a leadership role.
Respect: Respect means that you acknowledge your regard for the experiences and feelings of others. In order to collaborate with another person, politeness must be employed.
Integrity: In order to practice many of the other principles listed, one has to maintain integrity. This means living honestly and sincerely.
Honor: The Samurai were warriors who upheld a sense of self worth and lived by the highest code of conduct. In order to abide by the principle of honor, you must acknowledge your moral responsibilities.
Loyalty: First, stay true to yourself. When fealty is given to another, this must not be abandoned even under difficult circumstances.
Self-control: Self-control in the Bushido code means adhering to this code under all circumstances, when with others and when alone.
In my family, hard work and doing things the right way was a must (failure was not an option in the eyes of Japanese back then). I didn’t experience or understand racism or oppression due to racial differences while I was in Japan but I was called “Half.” “Half” is what the Okinawans would say about children that were born from an American G.I. and a Japanese. That was the only thing that ever confused me because I understood the elders that went through WWII was very hateful towards the Americans.
Reflecting back to my father, he never taught or mentioned to me about the suffering or heartaches he had to endure living in the Jim Crow South. He didn’t talk about his personal experience with individual racism, division of class (being poor) or even systematic racism. He wanted to ensure I would be safe by not exposing or teaching me about the horrors of the south as he knew it from his own experience in Jim Crow South. What he taught me was to be “myself” which was just being “Randy.” What he really wanted for me was to be a Japanese citizen so I would not experience the horrors he did as a Black man in America. However, around 1979 my father was assigned to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
When we moved I understood both English and Japanese, but I only spoke Japanese. So the kids on base whom I would play with would ask my father: “Why can he understand what we are saying but he only speaks another language”? This made my father proud—that he had raised a son who had not been fully exposed to American life, given what he had been exposed to growing up. Especially since his adulthood was the late 60’s and early 70’s where America was going through a change with racism, the war, and white kids rebelling against their parents’ way of life (Hippie age).
It only took me about 2-3 weeks to start speaking English without being taught. I just one day started to reply back to my father in English. I always replied to my father in Japanese and he would speak to me in English. To this day I am amazed at how this was able to happen because my mother was not fluent in English.
Backing up a bit, when we arrived in the states and before we headed to New Mexico, my father decided we should take a road trip to Savannah, GA. This was the first time I ever met the family. The thing I can remember most was that my Grandmother and my Aunts said I was “wild.” I learned in my later years that in the old slave dialect that means “someone with a free thought.”
In the summer of 1988, my father (who by then was divorced from my mother) and I (I chose to be with my father) came back to Savannah, GA to live with my family who were living on the property on Monteith Rd that was purchased from the Keller family in the early 80’s. My father had to do one more tour before he was completely retired. He had to go to Taegu, Korea for a year. I stayed behind with my new family.
This was a trying time for me, to live with individuals that were strangers to me. Every day was like learning a whole new way of life. Here are just a few examples:
- My grandmother instructed me not to go down the left side of the street once it was dark, because that was where all the white families lived.
- During some school events during class at Mercer Middle School, I noticed that when kids went into the gym, each race sat on a different side. The teachers didn’t instruct this but it was just natural in that way. It was total self-segregation.
- College was never emphasized in our American family, we were just told to work hard and go to church. (This was throughout the week not only on Sundays.)
- I quickly witnessed how the submissiveness was expected from black men in the south. I heard black men courteously say “sir” to white men, but then I would see that the White men would not give back the same courtesy.
- Even within my own community I noticed that light skin and good hair (big curls or straight) was seen as more prestigious than being dark and “without the good hair.”
- Speaking English in the correct (or King’s English grammatically “correct”) way would be chastised by being called “talking white.”
As a mixed race man who had grown up in a very different culture, I was confused and angry about the new rules being forced on others, and me from all sides. I felt I had to choose a side or else be left in self-hatred and confusion. The easiest choice to me was to denounce my upbringing as a Japanese, which I was accustomed to, and follow the new rules and labels as a black man in the south. This mixed with me being “wild” as they would always call me forced me into self-hatred and destruction.
This destruction caused me to drop out of school, be involved in crime, and eventually be homeless. Economically speaking, I did not have to live on the streets. But I had not been taught, at home or at school, that there were real reasons for my confusion and pain. I didn’t have to live this way of course because my father was a middle class parent being retired from the U.S Air Force and working after retirement. Why did I take this route? Looking back it was all about trying to find myself again that “free-mind” that was telling that anything was possible instead of thinking that I was limited because of the color of my skin. And here is where the route of living the life of crime was easier than actually working hard through adversity. I consumed drugs because I had in my mind that I needed their support to outsmart others, and to numb me from the pain of why I was here in the south and so angry and confused. I was lucky not to get addicted. I never was a marijuana smoker or crack user, my choice of drugs were powder cocaine and alcohol. Powder Cocaine gave me the edge I needed to survive the inner city, which I didn’t grow up in and didn’t know how to navigate. I involved myself in robbery, drug dealing, and anything that gave me cash. Beneath it all I see now that I was engaged in anything that would help me destroy myself, because “myself” at that time was not who I wanted to be.
Around 1995 I started on a different journey. I was still in the darkness of self-hatred but something within me understood I was supposed to do something different. All the people I would encounter on the streets would say I didn’t belong. I went to First African Baptist Church downtown in Savannah, and spoke with the Pastor there and explained I didn’t want to live this way and needed help. They raised $800.00 and sent me to Atlanta, to a big plantation, which used to be a slave ground. There we raised pigs, cropped our own vegetables and again attended church all the time. Recovering addicts were a majority of the cases. I didn’t fall into this category, but after 6 weeks everyone went to a halfway house at a church. When I got there, I was given a proposition to become one of their young ministers. I was going to be given a sermon topic and then groomed to draw more youth.
At the plantation I met an individual named Frank from NY who was already living in Buckhead. I reached out to him to get a job and he introduced me to his brother-in-law who was a Muslim from the Nation of Islam. Our job was to follow a tour (specifically the Janet Jackson Velvet Rope tour) and sell unauthorized merchandise (mostly T-Shirts and pictures of the Artists). Some individuals got caught by the Marshall or the Sheriff and were detained for a night. This never happened to me. I was on the road with them until the night I stayed with Frank’s brother-in-law on 132nd and Madison Avenue (close to Marcus Garvey Park). There, I was asked to join the Nation of Islam. But I refused due to some requirements that I was very concerned about.
I returned to Savannah and quickly decided to go to the Job Corps in Morganfield, KY, which was recommended by the state unemployment office. I met so many troubled kids there. Some were foster kids that were too old for foster homes, some were juvenile delinquent kids, and some were kids from the Caribbean Islands who were refugees. I learned that the Job Corps is just like prison. Kids were selling Commissary goods, marijuana, and girls were even selling their bodies. Everyone there was a person of color, including many Latinx kids, and Black/African-American kids. A few times riots erupted against the security guards. There was also gang related violence. These kids were from Georgia, Florida, Memphis, Chicago, and the Caribbean. But most of these kids were released to Evansville, Indiana after their completion of the programs for employment.
As my journey to the present day progressed I began to ask myself many questions and began to see what I think it all meant to me. How did I not become a tragic “statistic”? How did I overcome drug use without any treatment? How did I just stop drinking the way I did without any help? I am lucky, of course, that I do not have the inherited illness of addiction. And also a lot of it comes back to the willingness to question and become self-aware, to try to understand who “Randy” is and be honest with myself without being apologetic to anyone. It comes from the upbringing in the BUSHIDO ways that kept me grounded in some way, but I just needed to get back to it. And from the “WILD” way of thinking and doing things I started to love my people instead of hating them for making me doubt myself. I learned that life was bigger than myself and came to believe that we are to be used as tool for the universe.
Now that I am more self-aware, I can’t help but look through the eyes of my own people here in America: other Blacks and African-Americans. One thing that helped me see more clearly was reading the “Willie Lynch Letter” this letter was written during slavery to implement methods on how to control slaves for 300 years. When I reflect back to the letter the first thing Lynch describes is the attempt by enslavers to control us by age, to pit the young against the old and vice versa. When I look back at being raised in the Japanese Culture it was expected that you respect your elder even if he is one year older than you. This hierarchy created a sense of honor among the community as a whole even as a nation. The second thing Willie Lynch mentions is “Color.” He explains that enslavers worked to pit the dark slaves vs. the light slaves, female vs. male slaves, and long hair vs. short hair. In this description I recognized all that I endured and witnessed in present day America. I am half- Japanese so my skin was lighter and my hair texture was “preferable” and praised over dark skin and kinky hair by the majority.
My father always told me that I was born in a good time, when Blacks were starting to gather their pride, love of self, and the courage to fight the oppressors. Maybe this was always instilled in me from a child but I never knew or understood how to use it. My mother left us when I was 8 years old. She faced her own confusion, having born a child with an American and feeling the pressure for her to change into becoming a Japanese-American. It was not what she wanted, and I sensed this and I felt unwanted all my life but I didn’t really understand her reluctance to being Americanized until I resided in America and had to learn as a teen of how horrific America really is being an Black man with the odds stacked against you. I always felt I had to work to be accepted in America, but that pressure was never there in Japan. In Japan, it’s either you are doing your best to make your family proud or not. It wasn’t all good: If you weren’t succeeding you were just called lazy and dumb for not trying. But in America there were too many unspoken rules, like how to act when confronted by the police or by someone in authority, or how not to act in stores because people may assume you are there stealing. There are plenty more examples but for me it was all too much to take in so I came to the point that I didn’t care about anything and doubted who I was all the time.
I lost over 9 years of my life just wandering through trouble and confusion. During this time, I held my first son and something came over me: He didn’t deserve to inherit my self-hate and if he did I failed him. I thought to myself that he might never experience what I have by traveling the world, understanding and living another culture, and having a free mind because he would be raised in America.
What does the reparations land that was given to Zeike Quarterman mean to me?
It means more than life itself!! It means that my family owned something, and even if it is small it is OURS! I understand that the transatlantic slave trade advanced the world and built America, but I want every slave descendant family to be recognized as either employees or partners in the wealth expansion. The wealth of America was built on the backs of African-American families who were sacrificed and who sacrificed everything for it. Only certain families, classes, and races, namely wealthy white families, benefited from the apartheid of slavery in this world (the enslavement of blacks in majority numbers, but also Irish, Italians, and Jews.) The difference is that blacks were not able to work and rise or pay off their slavery debt in most cases.
Now here I am in the year of 2019, 400 years after American slavery began and I am in contact with Sarah Eisner who is the descendant of George Adam Keller, who was my great-great-Grandfathers’ owner. It’s even hard to say, “slave owner.”
When I came back home after a 5-year tour in South Korea, planning to retire in 2020, I didn’t know where my life would lead. I always had in my heart that I was here for some purpose, and being a Soldier, I always wanted to inspire but I wanted to inspire small groups at a time, which I believed was more effective. I took the responsibility to come back to Savannah so that I could take on the responsibility of moving my family forward since my father and his siblings were in their seventies. I wanted my generation to take the mantle and run with it for our family.
One day I opened my email and I saw an unfamiliar name that hadn’t gone to SPAM. It was an email asking if I was related to Andrew Quarterman Sr. When I read the email I was excited, but at the same time I was very nervous. I started to tell my father, my aunts, and my uncle. My uncle was the only one as excited as me. The others were looking at me as though they were thinking “Aww whatever there goes Wild Randy focused on something else” and this confused me. I was wondering why it is that some black families don’t even want to know their past. How can we move forward if we don’t acknowledge the past?
Days went by with communications between Ms. Sarah and I and it was like we met before in some lifetime. There were so many questions I had for her but I stuck with our agenda because I didn’t know if getting personal would ruin the moment of getting something right. I had never encountered a white woman in this personal space. I always felt so loyal to my bloodline and to be aware of the other race. It wasn’t that I didn’t like white people. I’d learned so many life lessons from white people. I was never offended by ignorance because we all need guidance.
When Sarah arrived in Savannah I was so excited just to feel the vibe she might have. When I saw her and she had a vase with flowers I felt very feminine at that time like wow I received flowers as a man. But I gave the flowers to my Aunt Priscilla who was the oldest living Quarterman in our family. When I looked into Sarah’s eyes and gave her a hug I understood we wanted the same thing, which was to uncover the past and truth. My idea was to help the black community as a whole but for her I believe she was trying to move her family into the new way of thinking by acknowledging what was wrong back then. The next time I was in an encounter with Sarah was when we attended an engagement and I tried looking for her. My feelings of excitement were more like I was looking for a loved one in a crowd. And when I found her I saw her in a truck cap, hoodie, jeans, and checkered Vans. Her step-dad and mother, who are lovely human beings as well, were there too.
Being connected to Sarah has opened so many doors and she is so vital to this new movement. I don’t know if it’s fate or our ancestors in another life working through us to get it together but I can’t wait to find out what’s in store.
“Each mistake teaches you something new about yourself. There is no failure, remember, except in no longer trying. It is the courage to continue that counts” –Chris Bradford