BRIAN LAMB, HOST: DeWayne, welcome. What is the book "Woodholme"?
DEWAYNE WICKHAM, AUTHOR, "A BLACK MAN'S STORY OF GROWING UP ALONE": Well, Woodholme is my middle passage. It is a book about my kith and my kin. It's a book about a tragedy that occurred in my life at age eight, the loss of my parents to a violent death. My mother was murdered by my father and then my father committed suicide, and Woodholme is the story, not so much of that traumatic event, but but it's the story really of the trauma I experienced as the result of their loss and the 10 years or so it took me to overcome this great tragedy.
LAMB: On the cover of your book there's a picture. Explain it.
WICKHAM: Well, Woodholme also is the bridge -- the financial bridge -- that I used to escape the poverty that I was plunged into. Woodholme is, in fact, a country club, and what you see on the cover are the feet of a young man, Converse tennis, just like the Converse tennis I used to wear when I went to this Jewish country club in suburban Baltimore to caddy as a young man at age 14.
LAMB: Where were you born?
WICKHAM: Born in Baltimore, in the city. Interestingly, the area of the city where I went to live after the loss of my parents was so isolated. It's called Cherry Hill. It's a housing project. It was a model housing project built in the 1940s for blacks who came from the South to work in the wood industry of Maryland. It's so isolated that we thought we lived outside of the city. And so for many people who were a part of this environment, we often talked of Baltimore as being some distant point. But in fact, we were physically and politically a part of the city of Baltimore.
LAMB: And what do you do now?
WICKHAM: Well, I'm a columnist for USA Today, as you well know, of course. And I also write a syndicated column for the Gannett News Service, which is the parent company of USA Today.
LAMB: What day or days can I read you in USA Today?
WICKHAM: Mondays in USA Today, and the syndicated column moves across the wire on Mondays and Thursdays and it appears in about 85 papers around the country.
LAMB: Any way to describe your mission with the column?
WICKHAM: Well, I generally begin each day with a rage. I'm usually upset about something and basically what I try to do is expose some truths and to share with people my perspective on life and the world in which we live.
LAMB: How long have you been in journalism?
WICKHAM: Twenty-one years, 21 years this year. I started -- 22 years, I'm sorry. I started in 1973 as a copy editing intern at the Richmond Times Dispatch.
LAMB: How old are you?
LAMB: Why did you get into journalism?
WICKHAM: Difficult question. I came back from the military, having served my last year in Southeast Asia with an abundance of opportunity available to me as a result of the GI bill. The GI bill in 1968 was very generous. You almost had to go to college, and I certainly took advantage of that opportunity. I started college, but not with quite much of an idea of what it was I wanted to do, other than to obtain a degree. Eventually I was forced to choose a major, and you may recall in reading the book, that as I got in trouble in high school, one of my counselors noted on a form that I had expressed an interest in journalism. Well, I don't remember that, but apparently that was the case. I certainly was well read. I read an awful lot. Even when I was hooking school, I read. And when I was offered the choice of majors, I chose journalism.
LAMB: Hooking school?
WICKHAM: Yeah, hooking school.
LAMB: What's that mean?
WICKHAM: Listen, I hooked school, actually, did not go to school, cut classes, but sometimes I hooked school in school. In fact, often times I hooked school in school. I would cut classes and find a place in the school building to hide. On occasion, it was the library. Eventually I was forced out of the library because you had to have a pass to go to the library, and there came a point in time when the librarian would begin to ask me, and no matter how studious I looked in there reading books, she'd ask me for my pass. So I found places, alcoves, hidden areas behind the gymnasium and points like that to just kind of disappear from my studies.
LAMB: Where do you think you got interested in reading?
WICKHAM: You know, it occurred so young in my life, I'm really hard pressed to explain it, except to say I can remember at the very early age of maybe eight or nine, reading the Baltimore News American, which was then considered the neighborhood paper. It certainly was considered the paper of greatest interest of African-Americans. It was an evening paper. It was a paper that was far more community and locally oriented than the more prestigious Baltimore Sun. And so I think to a great degree, African Americans subscribed to the News American, now defunct, but in bringing that paper into the home, I started just perusing it, reading it, just picking it up and going through the pages and I became hooked on reading newspapers and news magazines. You know, I cannot remember having ever read the funny papers. I didn't grow up reading the funny papers. I grew up reading newspapers, which may surprise many who read my book and see all the difficulties I had in public education. But I was an avid reader, and I think reading is the key to good writing.
LAMB: Give us a couple of things that you stand for politically. Of all the people you write about, who do you admire the most?
WICKHAM: Well, let me begin with by what I stand for, because I think far too many people of my political persuasion are unwilling to say what they stand for. I'm a liberal. I believe in liberalism. I certainly do not believe that people should get a free ride in this society, but I believe the government has a role to play in healing the wounds of people that have been afflicted by the disadvantages brought upon them as a result of societal problems and behavior, institutional behavior, systemic behavior. So I'm a liberal and I'm proud to be a liberal at a time when liberalism has taken its knocks.
LAMB: Give us some more things that a liberal stands for.
WICKHAM: Well, I don't know what liberals stand for in general. I can speak to what my liberalism is about. I certainly believe in the roleof government, in the role of the federal government in the federal system to provide a basic safety net, to capture those who are mostly disadvantaged in this country. I believe that government has the responsibility to insure that educational quality across this country meets a basic standard and it ought not to abdicate that role to states, which historically have shown an inability to perform in these areas. I mean, I just think it's absurd, this movement that we see now -- the states' rights movement that's taking place in Congress -- as though the Civil War had actually been won by the South. I mean, we thought that question was settled more than a century ago, but yet we see this new movement toward states' rights. I think it's divisive. I think it will split the Union, I think, in ways that may be as harmful as that which the Confederacy sought in 1861.
LAMB: Let me ask what will sound like a cruel question. If somebody came up to you and said, "DeWayne Wickham, you are our answer in this company to affirmative action. If it wasn't for that, you wouldn't be here." What would your reaction be?
WICKHAM: I would say I'm proud to have been a recipient of affirmative action. I think affirmative action is an appropriate response to systemic racism in this country. It is a response not only to past racism but also present racism.
You know, there's all kinds of affirmative action. There's the good old boys network that was the best affirmative action. It got a lot of white folks jobs prior to the 1960s and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of '64, maybe even the Civil Rights of '60. The affirmative action that existed in this country was the kind that caused white folks who wanted to have a job in unions simply to belly up to the union shop and have a relative who was already inside, vouch for them. It was a kind of affirmative action that created opportunity for the sons of Irish cops to join the police forces in cities like Boston and New York.
Affirmative action took place all across the length and breadth of this country and it advantaged white people for a long time. It wasn't called affirmative action. It was it was called "juice," or it was called "the good old boys network," or it was called having "clout or inside position," but in fact, it was affirmative action nonetheless. It created opportunity for white people at the disadvantage of African-Americans. The kind of affirmative action that I support is not mean-spirited. It is a remedy. It is a chance to bring balance to our system, and I think it is necessary and I think it serves a useful purpose.
LAMB: Let me ask you about your role at USA Today. Without affirmative action would you have a column?
WICKHAM: I don't think so. You know, back in 1968 when the Kerner Commission looked at the causes of these racial uprisings of that period, it cited the role of the media as being very prominent in causing some of these situations to come about. It complained about the lack of diversity in the media. At that time, about 1 percent of all media jobs held -- actually about 3 percent of media jobs were held by African-Americans. Today, the number is probably no more than 6 percent, certainly total numbers of minorities working at newspapers, daily newspapers in this country, the number is slightly more than 10 percent. But that counts African-Americans, Hispanics, Latinos, Native Americans and Asian-Americans as well. When you just look at the core African-American group, which was measured by the Kerner Commission, the number has only increased from about 3 to 6 percent over this long span of time.
LAMB: I want to get to this book. One question, and we'll come back to some of this stuff. Who do you admire the most in politics today?
WICKHAM: Oh, you know, I think as a columnist, as a commentator I really am sort of cautious in talking about politicians. I think that politicians aren't to be held up as any particular model by me. I mean, I spend most of my time criticizing politicians. I like Jesse Jackson. I think Jesse Jackson is a -- he's not an office holder obviously, but I think he's a man of tremendous moral courage, and I think that he is someone who has risen to the leadership of the liberal wing, not just the black wing, but the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. I would like to see other liberals step forward, but so many of them are backing away from the label these days and looking for a new way to tag their brand of political persuasion.
LAMB: This is on the back of your book, this picture. How old are you here?
WICKHAM: Eight years old. That's a picture of me that was taken in the third grade. It was the picture that I carried to the place of my mother's employment, on the last full day of her life, and I offered to her a package of pictures. You know, back in those days, back in 1954, when you had your school picture taken, the schools trusted you to take the pictures home with a little sheet, and your parents could look at the sheet and determine which combination of pictures they would want, and then they'd drop a check or some cash in an envelope and return the envelope and return the unwanted pictures back. That was the choice that was offered me that day. I took those pictures to my mother's place of employment, and she said to me, as I recall, after suggesting that maybe we didn't have the money to buy them, she said, "Let me discuss this with your father." And those pictures were found scattered about the front seat of the automobile in which my parents were found in the early hours of the morning of December 17, 1954 after the murder/suicide.
LAMB: What do you think happened?
WICKHAM: I have no idea. I really don't. You know, one of the things you do as a journalist is to search for truth, and I sought the truth of what happened and I really just simply failed, I think, to find out what it was that caused this horrible event to take place. There were newspaper accounts, mostly in the Baltimore Afro-American, the black newspaper in Baltimore. It was the banner story, it was the headline story for two consecutive issues.
LAMB: That's two different weeks?
WICKHAM: Two different ... Actually, the Afro came out at that time twice in one week, but it was the end of one week and the beginning of the next week.
LAMB: Did you go back and look at the papers?
WICKHAM: I actually went back and got copies of the papers and read the stories, and the second issue, which carried the headline story on this event, talked about the suicide note, and my father's complaint that he had no money to buy Christmas gifts for his children. And so money certainly was a very real problem, although, at this age, at this point in my life, it's hard to imagine that that could be the only reason why something as horrible as this would occur. But, you know, 1954 was a long time ago. They were different times, and it's very difficult to now look back and figure out what were the motivating factors. I did not grow up in an abusive home. I did not see anything but love in the house in which I lived.
LAMB: How many brothers and sisters did you have then?
WICKHAM: Three brothers and a sister at home, and my father had a child out of wedlock, so two sisters actually, and three brothers.
LAMB: What did your dad do?
WICKHAM: My father was a taxi driver. He was a cab driver for Yellow Cab Company in Baltimore. In fact, I'm told -- I met someone at a book signing just a few weeks ago who told me that he had driven taxis with my father and that my father was actually the first black cab driver in the city of Baltimore. He did not begin with the Yellow Cab Company. He began actually with another cab company, and then moved onto the Yellow Cab Company. Probably started driving cabs somewhere around the late 1940s.
LAMB: How old was he when he actually killed himself?
WICKHAM: Actually 33 at the time.
LAMB: And where did your mother work?
WICKHAM: My mother worked for Isadore Cooper -- Cooper's Clothing Store. Isadore Cooper was a Jewish merchant who operated a clothing store at the northernmost end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Now Pennsylvania Avenue in Baltimore is quite different from Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. It was then the social and cultural hub of the black community of Baltimore. Many of the businesses in this area were run by Jewish merchants, and Isadore Cooper was a man of great warmth and integrity. He, unlike some of the other merchants, he hired blacks to work in his store. There was great movement, I think, in the 1940s, maybe in the 1930s, in Harlem, that was called something to the effect, "Don't buy where you can't shop." There were a lot situations like that in urban centers around America, I suspect probably also in the South, where stores that serviced African-Americans would not, in fact, employ African-Americans. Isadore Cooper was a man who reached out very early. He began his business in the late 1940s and from the very beginning, he hired African-Americans, not only as clerks, but also a managers in his small clothing store that served the needs of African-American women.
LAMB: There is a substory here throughout your book about Jews and blacks.
WICKHAM: Oh, I think the subplot very much is about relations between Jews and blacks. I should tell you that when I started this project, my then agent looked at the idea and he said, "This is a great idea about a book of black-Jewish relations." And he sent me off to look at Nicholas Leemons' book, and others that had looked at this issue from a much far greater, sophisticated vantage point than I was able to obtain. I decided very early on I didn't have a book in me about relations between blacks and Jews. I am not well studied in that area. But I thought that in the telling of my story, as sort of a subplot, this would unfold and people would come to understand in a very personal and real way, about how at least my family interacted with the Jewish community. It was all about us in Baltimore.
LAMB: Well, you mother worked for a Jewish merchant and you caddied at a Jewish country club.
WICKHAM: Well, let's begin -- let's back up a little bit. When my mother came to Baltimore from Calvert County, a rural area of Southern Maryland, on the arms of her mother, they went to work at a place called the Mull Barrell, which was a major housing development or housing building for wealthy Jews in a fashionable area of Baltimore City. And so early on, when she was maybe 15 or 16 -- interestingly, about the same age that I began to work for Jews -- she started working in the homes of Jews in the Mull Barrell building. Later, she moved on to work for Mr. Cooper at his clothing store and her older sister worked in Mr. Cooper's home at the same time, caring for his two children, and cleaning their house. And I remember her telling me that when my mother died, that Mr. Cooper came to her and he said that she should come and replace my mother in the store. Having only obtained a seventh grade education, she thought she was unworthy of this opportunity, and he insisted. He said, "No, you can do it, and I want you to come." And really it was a quantum leap from a nanny to a sales clerk in those days, but she made it at his insistence and I can't say enough good about Isadore Cooper, and the way he dealt with my family.
LAMB: Is he still alive?
WICKHAM: No, unfortunately, he's passed several years ago.
LAMB: And what about the country club?
WICKHAM: Well, the country club is still there. Woodholme still exists. It is still a Jewish country club. African-Americans play there as guests. They still have caddies. Not many country clubs today have caddies. Some look at this and see this as maybe paternalistic, but it's interesting, you know, where we stand on most issues depend upon where we sit.
At Woodholme, the Jewish members take this as a point of pride, that they continue to create opportunities for young people to come and to work at the country club. Admittedly, many stay far beyond their youth. The compensation today is quite good. A round of golf, carrying two bags for 18 holes, will get a caddy somewhere in the area of about $70 or $80 for four hours worth of work. That's a pretty good piece of compensation. On a good weekend you can walk two rounds of golf and walk away from the course with about $160 in your pocket. If you're a teen-ager, that's great money, if you're an adult, you know, that's still not bad.
LAMB: What year did you first start caddying?
WICKHAM: I had to. Young people, oftentimes go to country clubs to caddy to get weekend money, money for dates, prom money, that sort of thing. I went there because I needed the money to survive.
LAMB: Let's drop back a second. In 1954, your mother and father died.
LAMB: In 1961 you started caddying. Where did you move in there before we start the next story?
WICKHAM: Well, as I pointed out earlier, I left the home that we lived in in northwest Baltimore, and moved to a housing project, Cherry Hill, it's called, in South Baltimore. It was a very dismal kind of existence. My aunt, who took us in, had five children. She and her husband lived in a two-bedroom housing project, concrete floors, a bathroom, tub, no shower. The two -- she took myself and one of my brothers.
LAMB: Which one?
WICKHAM: Rodney, the one who's just three years older than I. And so, her children, the children she was responsible for, grew from five to seven. The following year she had another child, so there are eight children and two adults in a two-bedroom public housing unit, where the heat comes on October 15th and goes off April the 15th whether you need it or not. I mean, there was no air conditioning. In the summer the place was absolutely stifling with heat. In the winter it was always too hot, because there was no thermostat. It came on, you had it, that was it. We spent most of our time outside as children.
But in 1954, 1955, 1956, it was OK to be outside in Cherry Hill. It was a rather pleasant place from a physical perspective of open land, trees and the like. It was unpleasant to the extent that half a block from where I lived was the city dump. It was an open air dump, where trash was hauled every day. Trucks and trucks of trash would come down the street on which I lived, on its way to the dump. They would drop the trash off and then they would ignite it and it would burn in the open air. And the residue from that burning trash would just kind of filter down onto the clothes you would hang on your clothesline out back of the home and onto your person as you played outside.
LAMB: Your Aunt Annette, was that her name?
LAMB: What did she do?
WICKHAM: Well, she was a housewife when I first moved into her home. Ultimately when her husband left, I think the burden of ...
LAMB: He just left her?
WICKHAM: Ah, yes, ultimately the marriage broke up. I think the burden of so many children, two of whom were not even his own, was too great for him to handle and he moved out. She then went to work at least two jobs. I can remember most most times she had at least two jobs, usually working a a bar maid.
LAMB: Were you getting, I mean, was she getting any public assistance in those years?
WICKHAM: No, she did not. Other people on our block did. She was, I guess, stubbornly proud, and refused to go on welfare, and so we missed out, I should say, on the surplus food handouts. You know, in those days, welfare was heavily weighted towards handouts of surplus foods. You'd get large blocks of cheese and big tins of apple butter and 50-pound bags ...
LAMB: In the '50s?
WICKHAM: ... in the '50s of flour and the like, and so you had the basic makings of a meal. I don't know, there probably was some cash subsidy as well, but certainly was heavily weighted toward food surplus handouts.
LAMB: And you decided to call this book "Woodholme", which means that that must be really an important part of your life. Why was it?
WICKHAM: Because Woodholme became for me the bridge over troubled water. My life spiraled down after the deaths of my parents. I had a problem childhood. I grew up alone. I mean, I grew up in a house with other children, for a time at least, but I was alone. I was alone without parents. I was alone without siblings. My siblings for the most part, became to me for what most people are cousins, I'd see them two or three times during the course of the year. The family that I had grown up with, at least to that point in my life, the family I had known
LAMB: What about Rodney?
WICKHAM: Well, Rodney was there, but Rodney had a lot of scar tissue. He was, think he was hurt in ways that are indescribable, at least for me. He almost ceased to communicate to me. We didn't talk.
LAMB: Did you sleep in the same room?
WICKHAM: We slept in the same room.
LAMB: The same bed?
WICKHAM: No, not in the same bed. My aunt paired us. She had two boys who were approximately the same age as Rodney and me, and so she paired us off together, so I slept with my cousin who was six months younger and Rodney slept with a cousin who was six months younger. So, we had literally no interaction. We didn't talk. I remember once asking him about something that had to do with the old neighborhood in which we lived, and he just absolutely ignored me. He didn't respond. It was as though he would not allow himself to return to those times, and this conversation took place within a year.
LAMB: He was 11 or so on the day they were killed?
WICKHAM: He would of been, I think, 12.
LAMB: Where's he today?
WICKHAM: Works for Amtrak as a conductor. Has a family, a wife and two kids and some grandchildren.
LAMB: In Baltimore?
WICKHAM: In Baltimore. Baltimore County, just outside the city.
LAMB: What was the first caddy job that you ever had?
WICKHAM: The first and only caddy job I ever had was at Woodholme.
LAMB: I mean, the first time somebody said "DeWayne, get up here."
WICKHAM: The first time -- yeah, right, that's about how they would call you up too, "DeWayne, get up here."
LAMB: What was the guy's name?
WICKHAM: Mannion was the caddy master, Charlie Mannion.
LAMB: What kind of a guy was he?
WICKHAM: He was a nice guy. I mean, he was a no nonsense kind of a guy. I mean, listen, caddies were an interesting breed. We were quite a cross section of people and it was a difficult task in managing all of us, keeping us happy, keeping us quiet. You know, keeping us quiet maybe was more important than keeping us happy, because, you know, the noise factor behind the caddy shack often became a point of issue for the members who were out front trying to enjoy their day. They could make all the noise they wanted, but they didn't want to hear the noise from back of the caddy shack.
LAMB: All and only Jewish members?
WICKHAM: At the time. I don't know if that it's that way to day, but it certainly is predominantly Jewish even today.
LAMB: Were the caddies all African-American?
WICKHAM: When I first arrived at Woodholme, there were a handful of white caddies left. Interestingly, black caddies began to arrive at Woodholme sometime in the early 1950s, and quickly white caddies left Woodholme for country clubs that in fact did not allow black caddies. It was still very much a segregated time and to the extent that the Jews opened up work opportunities at their country club. Many white caddies then left to go to places where there were not those opportunities for African Americans, where integration had not yet arrived. So, by the time I arrived in the early 1960s, there were just a handful of white caddies, and they did not come with any great regularity.
But back to the question about my first time out, it was single, as we called it. Caddying is the only job where the better you get the harder you have to work. So, that you begin as a single caddy, you carry one bag. When you develop some skills, you understand the game a bit, you have a bit of polish to yourself, you graduate to what they call a double caddy, that's the next status. And as a double caddy, you get to carry two bags. It's more work, but it's also more money.
LAMB: You point out that by not paying taxes, 100 bucks a week, you made more than all people in the neighborhood?
WICKHAM: Oh, there were no deductions. There were no taxes. What you got is what you took home.
LAMB: What age would you make $100 a week?
LAMB: In '61 you would be what?
WICKHAM: 1961, I was ... well, when I started, I was 14, I turned 15 that year.
LAMB: How many years did you caddy?
WICKHAM: I caddied until the summer of '64, so that would be what, four years.
LAMB: In the time you spent at the Jewish country club, and around the Jewish neighborhoods and all, did you come up with stereotypes ...
WICKHAM: Oh, I think ...
LAMB: ... about the Jewish-black relationship or Jews in general or?
WICKHAM: I think if there were some stereo types, some of them I'm certain that I stumbled upon even before I got to Woodholme. As I said, in Cherry Hill as on Pennsylvania Avenue, many of the merchants were Jewish. I remember one term, the term "to Jew someone down."
LAMB: I know I also quoted you as saying, "Jewing someone down."
WICKHAM: That's right. Absolutely. It was a phrase that we used among Afro-Americans as we bartered and struggled in our own commerce. But I've got to tell you that when I used the term, I had no understanding to it's relationship to someone down" meant, to me, "to get a lower price." And...
LAMB: Where did it come from?
WICKHAM: I had no idea. I have no idea of the origins of the term. I certainly had no idea of the origins of the term in 1954, '55, '56 when I was just a kid in Cherry Hill. If I wanted to try to strike a deal to get marbles from a guy -- we were bartering marbles so to speak -- and there were different kinds of marbles, and I wanted to offer one kind of marble in return for another kind of marble, then later the term might be used, "I Jewed him down." But god knows I had no idea that it had any relationship to Jewish people.
LAMB: Would you use that term today?
WICKHAM: No, I would not use that term today. I recognize that term as being offensive.
LAMB: What's your reaction, and this is a present day controversy of sorts, to the lyrics of the Michael Jackson song, where he says "Jew me", and I think he says "Kike me."
WICKHAM: He says "Jew me, Kike me." You know, I have not read all the lyrics to that song, but I'm not unwilling to accept him at his representation of it. What he said as I watched the interview was that he was trying to demonstrate some sense of allegiance with Jews and other oppressed people in terms of the kinds of ways that people treat them. So, I have no reason not to accept his representation that he was not mean-spirited in the use of those terms. You know, often times we use terms and we think are affecting one type of reaction or response, and we come up with quite another.
LAMB: Well, the other thing I wanted to ask you about, because I kept thinking to myself as I read the language in the book, if I use some of the terms in your circle that you dub -- it had been a difficult life, the word I'm thinking of is the word `nigger.' You kept using it among yourselves, among your other friends then, how do you deal with those words and why did you use it so often?
WICKHAM: Oh, I think that at least within the African-American community, there's a general acceptance and understanding that terms that often are used by others to denigrate us, are sometimes used among ourselves almost as a term of affection. It may be confusing for a lot of people, but I don't think we're unique in that regard. I think that probably if you go into the Jewish community, or if you go into the Italian community, the American community, you will find that words used by people outside of those communities are thought to be negative or racist or ethnic slurs, are used by people inside that community toward one another. And I don't mean in anger, but sometimes jokingly they're used by one another. You know, I know we have reached this point of political correctness, everyone disavows of ever having used any terms that might be construed even mildly as offensive, but I think in truth, we all do from time to time.
LAMB: You up front here have a dedication, among other things. We'll get a close shot of it here, to Wanda ...
LAMB: ...and others. Who are they?
WICKHAM: Wanda is my wife, and my three daughters, Vanessa and Zenita and Mykella.
LAMB: You tell a story in the book about a daughter you had ...
LAMB: ... through a woman named Ruth?
WICKHAM: That's right.
LAMB: How did that happen, what age was it?
WICKHAM: Well, Ruth, who eventually became my first wife -- I am married a second time -- and I were boyfriend and girlfriend. We were intimate. We had a intimate relationship that started off quite innocently. She was my first love and I was her first love. We both experienced our first kiss with each other. By the way, it took about 15 months for this to occur. We were 15 months into our boyfriend-girlfriend relationship before we got our first kiss.
LAMB: I must say it was painful reading. You described the whole experience, at least the beginning in a movie theater.
WICKHAM: It was very difficult, but I thought there was something useful, I think, in recounting that now, at an age when people move so quickly from puppy love to the intimacy.
LAMB: Did you really go into the bathroom and ...
WICKHAM: Oh, it's all true.
LAMB: ... make love to the mirror?
WICKHAM: Oh, I made love to the ...
LAMB: Explain what we're talking about.
WICKHAM: ... back of my hand. You know, it had been months. We had been dating at this point for six, seven, eight months. We had not kissed. All of my friends thought we were far advanced in our relationship, and I did nothing to disabuse them of this notion. I was a young boy, you know. I wanted people to think I was doing all the things that we would read about in Playboy after dark, but when in fact, the relationship had not advanced beyond hand holding. I wanted to kiss her. You know, kissing was something that was the logical next step, and on this one occasion when we went to the movies, I intended to get this first kiss.
But kissing is done face to face, and there we were sitting shoulder to shoulder and I was absolutely befuddled as to how to pull this thing off. After a couple of false tries, you know, I slumped into the chair once and put my head on her shoulder, faking asleep to try to position myself properly. It was a terribly uncomfortable experience. I eventually decided to go into the men's room to kind of still myself, and to get my courage back up, and in the process to kind of go through the steps of kissing and I was in the process of kissing the back of my hand. You know, you do a dry run, when someone walked in and spotted me and I had to act as if I was pulling a splinter from my finger.
LAMB: So he never really believed you though?
WICKHAM: No, he didn't believe me, but I got out of there with my manhood still intact.
LAMB: You had the daughter. Were you married when you had the daughter?
WICKHAM: No. No. The daughter came about a year later, and anyone who believes that it's safe to experiment with sex one or two times casually, I can testify to the fact that it will work the first time. It did with me.
LAMB: And when did you marry Ruth?
WICKHAM: Our daughter was born in July of '64, I left for the military, for the Air Force in October of '64, and on my first leave home from the service in May of '65 we married.
LAMB: How long were you married?
WICKHAM: Eleven years.
LAMB: And how old is Ruth today then?
WICKHAM: She probably wouldn't want me to say that. She's pretty close to me in age.
LAMB: I didn't mean Ruth. I mean your daughter.
WICKHAM: Vanessa. Well, Vanessa was born when I was 17. I'm 48. She'll be 31 this year.
LAMB: And where is she?
WICKHAM: She's in Baltimore. She's a graduate of Goucher College and she's married with two children.
LAMB: You married your second wife, Wanda, when?
WICKHAM: 1987. I'm good at this now. You're not going to trip me up. All the dates are right here.
LAMB: And how old are your children?
WICKHAM: Well, Vanessa is the oldest, obviously, Zenita, who was born to me and Ruth at the end of our marriage, is 19, she'll be 20 in September. She's a pre-law student at the University of Maryland, and my newest child, Mykella is
LAMB: And she's not doing anything yet.
WICKHAM: Well, she's walking and she's trying to talk.
LAMB: You write a lot about your homosexual brother. Is it still alive?
WICKHAM: No, he's not.
LAMB: When did he die?
LAMB: What did he die of?
LAMB: Was that hard to write about?
WICKHAM: Well, I didn't write about his death, because this book doesn't cover that period, but it was certainly hard, very difficult to write about my discovery of his homosexuality.
LAMB: Why was that hard?
WICKHAM: Well, because, it was 1963, it was a time when there was virtually no tolerance for that lifestyle. And I grew up in a community where if there was any tolerance in the greater community, there was even less in the community in which I lived. I think that particularly among African-Americans, there's a resistance to homosexuality and I think there's a greater -- as a result, there's a greater degree of homosexuals who are in hiding, who are in the closet, who refuse to come out, because of the unwillingness of African-Americans, particularly, I think, to accept homosexuality.
LAMB: What about all the personal things you wrote about in here. How long did you think about that?
WICKHAM: Oh, listen, Brian, that was the real difficult part of this book. Some of it more than others. I must tell you, it was very difficult to write about the deaths of my parents, particularly in the details in which I did write about them, that event. It was difficult to write about my brother, his homosexuality. There are a lot of pieces in the book that were difficult to write. The easy stuff to write about was Woodholme and my friends and the other people. The difficult thing to write about always had to do with me and my close relatives.
LAMB: Why did you do it?
WICKHAM: It was necessary. I needed to do it. I remember my aunt, my mother's oldest sister -- who still is with us -- who said to me when I began the project, that I should let my parents rest in peace. And I said, "But they have their peace. It's the living who do not have their peace." And I needed to discover myself, I needed to do it to discover my parents. You know, if you didn't grow up without parents, it's hard to understand the tremendous void that you have in your life. There was no history. This was such an awful event, such a tragic event, such an ugly event, that no one in the family talked about my father. There was no talk about my mother, because talk about my mother would invariably lead to talk about what happened, so people didn't talk about my parents, and all the history of their lives was lost to me until I undertook this project.
LAMB: When did you start it?
WICKHAM: Oh, 1992.
LAMB: Where did you write it?
WICKHAM: I wrote it at home. I wrote it in a small library in my house, and much of it I wrote late at night. There were passages that I could only write at night, but much of it was written late at night.
LAMB: Why only at night?
WICKHAM: It was a peaceful time. The house was busy during the day. I had a research assistant who comes in during the day to help with my column. You know, the fascinating thing is that as I wrote my book, I would not allow my research assistant to see anything I'd written. And I knew there would come a time when I would have to allow her to see it, as I would have to allow my wife, my children to read what I had written, but I put it off to the very last moment.
LAMB: What was that research assistant's reaction?
WICKHAM: She never said a thing. She never asked to see anything.
LAMB: What about your wife?
WICKHAM: Never asked to see.
LAMB: But once she saw it, what was her reaction?
WICKHAM: She loved the book, she thought it wonderful.
LAMB: Anybody not like it?
WICKHAM: Well, I'm sure someone probably has not liked it, but they have not said so, or -- I had a reviewer who didn't like it.
LAMB: What was the reason?
WICKHAM: I'm not sure. The reviewer -- we've had about eight reviews now, seven of them have been very generous in their praise of the book -- but we had one reviewer who didn't like it. I thought that it just didn't, I mean, it was so cataclysmic, I mean the dislike that this person had for the book .. it's hard for me to categorize it. He just absolutely didn't like the book.
LAMB: He didn't give a decent ...
WICKHAM: I think he thought the book should of been more about the deaths of my parents and less about my problems and troubles that resulted from that event.
LAMB: Do you get any sense that once people read your book, they change their relationship with you?
WICKHAM: Oh, listen, people say to me -- the two standard responses that I get is, one, "I didn't know," and then the other is, "I didn't know you. I thought I knew you. I thought you were my friend. I thought we were friends, and now I read all this." It's almost as though I betrayed them by writing this book, by telling them that they knew so little about me, you know, as I reveal this part of my life. So, I get that response a lot.
But you know, the other response that I get, which is really kind of scary, is that people come up to me -- I mean, I've traveled now, I've been to about 16 cities on book tour -- and people come up to me and they tell me these stories about how in reading the book they discover themselves, or they find something, some element of the book that marries into some aspect of their lives. This book has fast become not my book, but a book that belongs to a lot of people in this country. "Woodholme" touches people in ways that I just could not have anticipated.
In Atlanta at a book signing, a black man came in. He said he was 50. He said his wife insisted that he come to this book party, to this book signing, and I asked him why. He said because -- and he looked around first to see that we were standing alone -- and he said "When I was 18, my brother killed my father, and I've not talked about it all these years, and my wife has insisted that I come and read this book." And in every city that I go to, I guess, there's some variance of that -- somebody that had difficulty in school, someone who grew up poor, someone who has in their family ... In Nashville the other day, someone said to me, "You know, I could relate to the chapter about your brother, because my uncle is a gay man." And he said, "There came a time in my family where my sister and I decided to ask my mother about my uncle's homosexuality. And we said to my mother, `How long has uncle so-and-so been like that?' And she said, `Like what?'"
And he said, "We backed down, we backed away because we realized that it was still a family secret, that even though we knew, I mean, not because anyone told us, but because we observed his behavior and became aware of it just through observation, we knew what everyone wanted to deny. But it's still a great big secret."
So, for all these reasons, there were people coming to me who could relate to the book and increasingly I've come to understand that Woodholme no longer belongs to me. It's no longer ... it may be a cult book before its all over with, because so many people find their story in reading this book.
LAMB: Do you ever go back to the country club?
WICKHAM: I visited the country club in my research, and I've been invited back to talk to the members and to do a book signing in August.
LAMB: Do you ever have any contact with any of your other caddy friends?
WICKHAM: Oh, yeah. Bertha Butch and I are still good friends. I should say, because people haven't read this book will wonder "Bertha Butch?" We had a lot of Butches, a lot of guys named Butch in our neighborhood when I was growing up, so many in fact, that we began to put a prefix to their name. And the prefix would always be the name of their mother with a possessive. So, he was Bertha's Butch. There was Lilly's Butch, you know, there were all these Butches who had their mothers name attached to the front, so that when we talked about them, in their absence, we would know which Butch we were talking about. Over the course of time, we dropped the possessive, and Bertha's Butch became Bertha Butch. And Bertha Butch is a good friend of mine even to this day.
LAMB: Where is he?
WICKHAM: He's in Baltimore. He works for Johns Hopkins University, in fact, and he has a good and useful life. He has a family, a wife and a kid.
LAMB: When you went to research your father and mother's death, and you went to the police department ... you didn't get the records right away?
WICKHAM: No. Interestingly, I didn't get the records. My cousin, the one that I was sent to live with, is now a police lieutenant, and his job is to maintain the records division, at least at that time was to maintain the records division of the police department.
LAMB: In '92, '93?
WICKHAM: Yes. He was a little reluctant.
WICKHAM: Well, it was never said. I just sensed that he was reluctant to give me the records, and so to get the complete records, I had to go to a friend of mine, who is a spokesperson for the police department, a former journalist, and kind of backed my way into the information. I think he wanted to protect me from the pain of reading the account of what happened.
LAMB: When in the process of writing this book, did you just ever break down? Say, were you ever overcome by the emotion of all this?
WICKHAM: When I wrote about the death's of my parents, I remember it as ... when I first ... it was, oh, 2, 3 in the morning, and I was sitting and I was writing and I remember it was in the winter, it was very cold outside, and I remember sitting and writing and the tears just stream down the side of my face, and it was really a very freeing moment for me. I mean, you know, once I got over the initial thing that you go through when you cry, it was almost joyful to experience that, because I did not cry more than once or twice in my life from the moment of their deaths until that point in life.
LAMB: Did you graduate from high school?
WICKHAM: I didn't graduate from high school in the traditional sense of the word. I went to a lot of high schools. I was expelled from the first high school I attended, I was refused entry into two other high schools, finally gained admission after a rather protracted effort on the part of a vice principal who went to bat for me, into a fourth high school, only to drop out at the end of my 11th grade year. Went into the service and got a high school GED.
LAMB: Which service?
WICKHAM: The air force.
LAMB: How long?
WICKHAM: Four years. Back in those days, by the way, the air force required a high school certificate -- graduation certificate, diploma. But, in the absence of a diploma you could take a battery of tests and if you scored at a certain level, you could apply for a waiver. And I scored rather high on the test, applied for a waiver, it was granted. I went into the service and actually before the end of my senior year, what would of been my senior year, I had my high school GED.
LAMB: That's the General Education Development or something like that?
WICKHAM: That's in fact what it is, and it's granted by the state. It's kind of a comparable recognition of high school accomplishment.
WICKHAM: University of Maryland, bachelor's degree in journalism, And University of Baltimore, masters degree in public administration.
LAMB: Now when you sit down and think of this whole thing through, what you've been through, how did you do this? How did you get through all this and become what you are today in your opinion?
WICKHAM: Well, you know, that's the book I haven't written yet.
LAMB: This stops when?
WICKHAM: It stops when I'm 18. I actually don't have the answer to that question. I wish I did. I'd take it up and give it to Newt Gingrich and Dick Gephardt. I'd offer it to them both and we'd get this thing solved.
LAMB: Let me ask you differently. Did you do it or did somebody else do it?
WICKHAM: Oh, I think that what resulted, what you see here is the cumulative effect of a lot of efforts on the part of a lot of different people. I know there are a lot of people who tried to do something for me, particularly when I was struggling through school -- Dolores Augustas, the junior high school teacher that I talk about in this book; Essie Hughes, the vice principal that I talk about in this book; Frieda Glass, the Jewish teacher who tried to help me out.
LAMB: Why did they want to help you?
WICKHAM: I mean, I can't get too much into their own psyche, but I think that they wanted to help because they were concerned. I mean, they were teachers, I think, in the real sense of the word. They measured their accomplishments, they measured success on the ability to educate young people.
LAMB: They see hundreds of kids every year.
WICKHAM: Well, yeah ...
LAMB: What was it that you were doing? Why did they want to help?
WICKHAM: That's a tough one. Maybe we should get them to answer that question. I don't know the answer, but they saw something, and I would like to think that they didn't see anything special in me. I like to see that they saw in me what they saw in all students who came into their class. I'm not sure that they discriminated in the sense that they picked me out from the pack and said, "We're going to help this guy." I think they were the kind of teachers who in fact, measured their worth on their ability to help the least of their students.
LAMB: How did you get through the University of Maryland?
WICKHAM: Well, by the time I got to the University of Maryland, I was a different person. I think, if you're asking me how I transitioned from a kid who couldn't get through high school to a young man who was able to obtain two college degrees, both with academic honors, I would tell you I think the secret was the military, and I'm a big proponent today. This may fly in the face of my liberalism, but I think it's consistent with my liberalism. I believe that one of the greatest mistakes we made in this country was to discontinue the draft. I think the military draft took a lot of young people who didn't know at that time where they wanted to go in life, maybe lacked some direction, and put them into an environment where discipline was instilled, where they were forced to think about their own self-determination, forced to think about what it was --what their place is in this society. And I think it took a lot of young people who were headed in the wrong direction and put them on the right path.
LAMB: How did you get that column in USA Today?
WICKHAM: I got it at a bar. That's how it started. The summer of 1985, the National Association Of Black Journalists Convention was held in Baltimore and Jim Ghian, who was then vice president, in fact, he was president of Gannett News Service, agreed to have a drink with me at the request of a mutual friend, who know that Jim Ghian was looking to hire a columnist, particularly a black columnist, having just lost Jay Harris, who is now a publisher out in San Jose at the San Jose Mercury. [He] wanted to replace him. And this mutual friend put us together. Jim said, "I only have 15 minutes, I'm very busy today. A lot is going on here." We talked for an hour and a half.
LAMB: Why did he pick you?
WICKHAM: I have no idea, but there was something he liked.
LAMB: But what if he had seen, I mean, it was Gannett, so he saw that you were working...
WICKHAM: No, I was not working for Gannett.
LAMB: At all?
WICKHAM: No. It was while I was working in TV. I had a little public affairs show at a station in Baltimore and he saw me and he said, "Listen, let's talk," and we talked. Fifteen minutes turned into 90 minutes and at the end of 90 minutes he said, "I'm going off to vacation, but when I come back, we'll give this a try and you can start." I think he said September 1, August 1 -- "You'll start August 1." So August 1 of 1995, 1985 was my first day on the job and I've been there ever since.
LAMB: In 10 years, which column has sparked the most interest?
LAMB: Was there one that got the most mail?
WICKHAM: Well, the most mail? A couple have gotten huge outpourings of mail. They both had to do with the pope, taking the pope to task on a couple of things that really struck a cord with readers. The columns that I'm most proud of fall into two categories, those that I wrote about Harold Ford, when he was being tried on some charges ...
LAMB: Congressman from Memphis?
WICKHAM: Congressman from Memphis, Tennessee. I never defended Harold Ford in my column, but I was outraged by the process by which the US Attorney sought and gained an indictment and then attempted to impanel and jury. Having failed to get an indictment in Memphis, which is in western Tennessee, this US attorney went to another district at the other end of the state, in Knoxville, got an indictment there and then impaneled a jury from Jackson, Tennessee, a 100 miles or so east of Memphis and brought that jury into try this man. And I just thought it flew in the face of all that we hold sacred about our judicial system. A jury of our peers, that certainly was not the case, and I thought the attempt to get people from a far distant place, who knew nothing about this Congressman, and who were of a different political orientation ... Memphis is a Democratic city, Knoxville is a Republican city. Memphis is majority black, Knoxville is overwhelmingly white. I just thought it was an outrage and I wrote columns about it, and fortunately, it seemed to have some impact, at least Congressman Ford thinks so.
LAMB: Your first wife used to call you "De Wayne?"
WICKHAM: Yes, yes.
LAMB: What's right? What's the right way to pronounce DeWayne?
WICKHAM: Well, you know, they say you can spell it any way you want, but how you pronounce it is what's important. It's spelled D-E-W-A-Y-N-E. And I guess properly it's pronounced De Wayne. I always pronounced it as though there's no "e," "Dwayne," and a few of my friends persist in calling me "De Wayne."
LAMB: Here's the back of the book, and it's the eight-year-old picture of DeWayne Wickham, and if we turn it around, on the front, you can see what the front of the cover is. The name of the book is, "Woodholme", and we thank you very much for joining us.
WICKHAM: Thanks for having me.
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