Horton Foote was born in the early twentieth century, barely 50 years after the Civil War ended. As a white child in a small Texas town, he was socialized to regard white supremacy as the norm. Although he claims that his parents did not teach him racist perspectives, the tacit approval of discriminatory practices was a routine part of his childhood. Social and economic discrimination went hand in hand with Jim Crow legislation that severely restricted the rights of African American people.
The legacy of the Civil War included economic hardships for formerly enslaved African Americans. Foote’s ancestors included plantation owners and slave holders. As a child, he met an elderly Black man who had been enslaved on his family’s property. In the memoir, he recalls the strong impact that this encounter had in helping him realize the effects of slavery on actual human beings rather than thinking of it in abstract terms.
His family store had Black employees, and related race and class divisions were instilled in him. He recalls that the employees had to speak respectfully to him, although he was just a boy, while he was allowed to call older people by their first names.
Foote says he heard rumors that atrocities such as lynchings occurred in and around his town, but apparently neither he nor family members actually observed them. The Ku Klux Klan had an active presence, and his father attended one meeting but did not continue to participate.