The race reality that I grew up with during the 1950s and 60s is not today’s. And that’s a good thing.
I used to sneak out of bed and hide behind a chair in our living room to watch Amos and Andy. It didn’t seem fair that such a funny show aired after my bedtime. A lot has changed since the hoopla over Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner and All In The Family.
In January of 1964, I lay on the floor reading while Grandma sat crocheting in her overstuffed chair.
“Come sit by me,” she said.
I laughed at the notion of squeezing in beside her. “I won’t fit,” I said.
“Sure you will, look there’s plenty of room.”
I thought of happy times sitting beside Grandma in the past. I guessed she must have been thinking about them too, realizing they were coming to an end as I continued to grow.
I wedged myself in beside Grandma. A saucer of apple slices sat on the flat arm of our chair. I continued reading while Grandma crocheted. So cozy and heartwarming.
Fast forward to 1970: I transferred to another state for my last two years of college. Grandma crocheted a throw rug and an afghan as a surprise for me. This was an act of love since her hands were crippled with arthritis. I still treasure her crocheted creations.
Back to 1964: Crunching an apple slice, I closed my book and reached down for a Look magazine lying on the floor. Flipping through the pages, I stopped at a two-page illustration by Norman Rockwell.
“Grandma, look at this. A little black girl is under arrest,” I said.
“She isn’t under arrest, dear. The soldiers are guarding her, so she can go to the same school as white children.”
With no black children in our school district at the time, I assumed kids went to whatever school was closest and that all schools were about the same. I never thought about schools outside our area. Why would I?
“She’s just a little girl,” I said. “Why wouldn’t they want her in their school?”
Grandma explained, “There are many people who believe white people and Negroes (current terminology) shouldn’t mix together, not even in school.”
She proceeded to tell me about Rosa Parks, who refused to give her bus seat to a white man. Grandma also told me how Negroes and white people had separate water fountains, and that a Negro girl had been arrested for drinking out of a white fountain.
What the heck? I had no idea any of this was happening. Why didn’t we learn about this in school?
Grandma used to teach in a one-room school house. She patiently told me about segregation and racial conflict without influencing my thoughts on the matter with her own.
I read and reread the Look article, learning new words, such as bigotry and prejudice. It still didn’t make sense. I knew kids could behave meanly; I was guilty myself. But it was adults threatening this young girl who simply wanted to go to school. Adults are supposed to protect children.
I’d gone to a new school in fifth grade and experienced firsthand how intimidating it can be. I pictured my first day surrounded by soldiers, with grownups throwing tomatoes and yelling mean things.
I wanted to tell-off those idiotic adults. And why weren’t the police arresting them?
The incident was far away and didn’t seem real, but it was closer than I thought—and very real.
Lesson learned: Not all grownups are created equal or know what’s best.
Now it’s your turn: What memories has my story stirred up for you?
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