In 1963 I was 21 years old and the only white woman in the NAACP in Morgantown, West Virginia. Did I know Morgantown was a hotbed of KKK activity? Did I even know what the KKK was? No. But there I was marching in civil rights marches through town because I learned in Sunday School that we were to love our neighbor as ourselves and in Girl Scouts that we were all brothers and sisters.
I certainly did not learn those lessons from my family, with my father and uncle pounding the dinner table railing about the “damn Niggers and the damn Jews.” Or my mother who emphatically taught me that “Colored” females could never be ‘ladies,’ only ‘women.’
As a white girl growing up in Washington DC in the 50’s, I was confused about all these mixed messages. If I believed what Girl Scouts and Sunday School taught me, then I was going against my family. So joining the NAACP was an act of defiance which set me on my life’s course to work for empowerment, equality and justice.
Was I afraid? You betcha.’ What if I was wrong and my parents were right?
But they were not right. I have seen racism first hand. With Davey, who had a Master’s Degree, a wonderful friend, mentor and the assistant director at the Girl Scout camp where I worked during college, I stood in line on our days off at the “Colored” window to buy food, while white people sat comfortably inside the restaurant. With her I went up to the “Colored” balcony to watch movies.
After college, my first job was as a substitute teacher at the “Colored” high school in Leesburg, Virginia, which allowed me to see first-hand the hypocrisy of “Separate but Equal.” The only way that African American community got a high school was to raise money for the land and building. I taught kids who had to share desks and use the cast-off torn books from the White high school. I saw kids walking miles to school in the rain and snow while the White kids’ school bus drove by.
In my 30’s my African American husband at the time, probably the safest driver I have ever known, was pulled over many times for DWB — Driving While Black. He and I were repeatedly seated at dark rear tables and ignored by the waitress. My African American girlfriends were always being followed by security in department stores.
Maybe things are better now in some ways, but the struggle never ends. Look at the appalling Affirmative Action case being considered by this horrid Supreme Court now. Witness the current assault on Voting Rights. Lament the incarceration of hundreds of thousand young men of color for minor offences while Banksters and Corporate Thugs get off scot-free.
Look how the Corporatists through their Tea Party toadies have persecuted Obama, the “Food Stamp President,” and miss no opportunity to distract and separate us through blatant racism and hot-button divisive issues such as “God, Guns and Gays.” “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” they insist. “Keep fighting and hating each other so we can do what we want.”
And what do they want—these mostly white billionaire men and their political lackeys and media hirelings? They don’t want much. They just want it all. They want to return us to a time of serfdom where slaves will be waiting on their tables and picking their crops, where women will be barefoot and pregnant, where workers will be jailed for organizing and where only the children of the privileged will be educated. For this is not just a struggle for the African American. It is a struggle for all but the very few.
Never was there a greater crisis than we all face now economically, politically and environmentally. Thomas Jefferson said, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” We must unite to fight the forces of greed, hatred and fear. We cannot leave this world to our children and their children in the horrible shape it is in now. As John Donne taught us in the 17th century
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
…….. any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.
John Donne (1572-1631 / London / England)