A Story About Carpet Knives & A Little Jim Crow

When I was a kid and visiting my aunt and uncle in Columbia, SC during the summers many of the Lincoln Street guys carried folding carpet knives. They had lubricated the hinge and over many openings and closings, limbered it up. The trick was to grab the back of the blade’s edge and with a sharp wrist flip, open the knife for whatever action was intended. I thought it was cool and wanted one of those knives for myself. So, one day I journeyed to uptown Columbia and purchased a carpet knife from a long gone Army Navy store.

When I came out of the store I saw several black kids from the neighborhood and ran to join up with them and walk back to my uncle’s store. It hurt me that they rejected me and ran me off. I couldn’t understand what I might have done to anger them. Next day, in the security of their neighborhood they approached me and gave me my first lesson in Jim Crow. It would have been dangerous to both them and me if they had let me walk with them. I didn’t really understand it, nor did I agree with it. But nevertheless, on future occasions, I complied.

Regarding the knife. I oiled it, manipulated the hinge, and learned how to flick it open in the wink of a bat’s eye. I don’t know whatever became of it but years later I carried a variation of the knife while in the Navy. It had the same hooked blade on one side and on the other a boatswain’s marlinespike. Over the years, it too disappeared. I’ve been reduced from a badass young punk to an old man with a very small Swiss Army Knife hanging from my key chain, and that is mostly used to open Amazon boxes and trim my fingernails.

Typical of the hooked blade folding carpet knife carried by so many of my SC friends of the ’50s.
This is similar to what I carried in the Navy. The blade wasn’t hooked and I never did figure out why I, a radioman, needed a marlinspike.

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