Charlie Montgomery and George Duggins tell one of those six
degrees of separation stories, one of those tales of coincidence about kid things and white guys
and black guys growing up in the segregated South, separated by race, railroad tracks, rivers,
neighborhoods, and all the other natural and unnatural ways people find to divide themselves.
Thirty-five years after the story begins, they tell it again. Listeners laugh and the
storytellers laugh in the telling of it. Then Charlie Montgomery and George Duggins go back to the business
of working together with a common purpose.
As with most stories of this kind, the first telling came
accidentally. It began when the Moving Wall was coming to the Tidewater area in Norfolk, Virginia.
Montgomery and Duggins, longtime members of VVA, worked on the project.
One day, as they drove through Montgomery's childhood
neighborhood at the end of Chesapeake Boulevard, Montgomery said,
"George, when I was kid, we used
to have these battles down here with the black guys. We used to throw dirt clods and rocks
across the river."
George said, "Yeah, and we used to throw stuff at the white
This is how good stories begin - a casual conversation, a
moment of recognition, a smile of remembrance.
It was the mid-1960s. Brown vs. the Board of Education
had been on the books for a while, but the Norfolk area was still segregated, its
neighborhoods and schools black, white, and separate.
George Duggins, VVA's national president from 1996-2001, grew
up in Barraud Park.
"It bordered on the river," he said.
"We used to throw
rocks at the white guys across the river. The rocks never made it all the way across the river, but
we'd throw them anyway."
Charlie Montgomery, the Virginia State Council president,
grew up on the other side, Shoop Park.
"We'd throw dirt clods and rocks,
but there wasn't any real violence," he said. "No fistfights, no knife fights, nothing like that. A lot of times it was more
like hiding in the bushes, and you'd throw something and see if they could see who was throwing
it. I don't remember any harsh words being said."
Charlie didn't think it was a racial thing, though he
remembers bad times in his neighborhood when it came to racial matters.
"Back in those days people didn't
get along all that well,"
he said. "I saw racial things happen in my neighborhood. But my mom and dad never had that kind of
hatred in them. I just wasn't raised that way."
On the other side of the river, George Duggins said it wasn't
a "gang" that hung out near the river. It was just a bunch of kids who grew up together.
"The rock throwing wasn't hostile," he said.
"I think it
was more just to see if we could get a rock across the river. Norfolk was part of the segregated
South, but the kind of hostility you saw in places like Birmingham and Selma wasn't present in
Norfolk. I think because Norfolk was a Navy town, it did away with that hostility. It's the only
reason I can see. There was a lot of interaction because of the heavy government employment."
Duggins said he didn't think the neighborhoods were all that
far from one another anyway.
"We weren't the wealthiest people in the world on either
side of the river," he said. "People on each side of that river were just common working folks."
Charlie and George went to their separate high schools, then
to the same war. "A lot of guys from my high school went to Vietnam," George said. When
Charlie came home, he met other rock throwers.
"When I came back from Vietnam, I
went to work for the city of Norfolk," he said. "I ran into firemen who had the same story.
'Oh, yeah,' they'd say. 'I
was on the other side, throwing rocks at you.' "
In the late 1980s, each now a member of VVA, George Duggins
and Charlie Montgomery met.
"We just kind of clicked," George said.
"He was a real
go-getter in the organization. We had the same goals for the betterment of the organization, and we
George is a few years older than Charlie. They don't know if
they were heaving rocks across the river at exactly the same time. It's possible. But as stories
go, well, you never know for sure.
"It's just one of those things," Charlie said.
by, and you say something about it. Back in those days we were so far apart and then we got older and
went to Vietnam, and now we're working together on all these issues. Back then we were
fighting each other, didn't even know each other. All these years later here we are fighting for
veterans rights and all the things we do in the chapter."