Another reader shares memories of growing up in the South, before the Brown decision was implemented.
And by the way, I don’t mean to suggest by reprinting these accounts that segregation no longer exists. In some places today, de facto segregation is even more extreme–and unnoticed–than the de jure segregation of the pre-Brown era. As I pointed out to an Internet friend last night on Twitter, in the 1950s, he and I would have never met, never exchanged ideas, never shared the same space. What I didn’t say was that if we had met, I would automatically be his superior because of the color of my skin, not because of anything else. There was a caste system in place, and it was race-based. I do not mean to minimize in any way the persistence of segregation today. It is one of the root causes of low academic achievement, especially when it is linked to poverty. The combination is toxic. Some day, when I have time, I’ll share some of my memories of growing up in the South.
|Segregation was my silly mother’s excuse to baptize us Catholic in Atlanta in 1954, when my older brother was ready to start first grade. Did y’all know that the Catholic schools were already desegregated, all that time? New Orleans was the only specific date I could find, just now. It was desegregated in 1948, the year before I was born.When We lived in San Antonio, we attended Our Lady of Sorrows, where we were a minority. My daddy had died, his military life-insurance was tangled up in paperwork for years, and he had set up his meager NCO pension allotment to give a share to his mother and his many young siblings, back in Florida. My mom worked off our tuition as a crossing guard. Our landlady, Mrs. Morales, was always claiming she’d cooked too much, and brought us nutritious and delightful combinations of cornmeal, beans, and every possible local vegetable. There’s so much I could say about the intelligent, creative, and devoted polylingual women who taught me. Oh, my God. I just this second realized, that’s what I’ve always expected of myself as a teacher.And I was in eighth grade at Everett Junior High School in Panama City, Florida, the year it accepted its first black students. I can’t even begin to convey all that. We should all write memoirs, or even novels, so history will know.Each of us who grew up in those momentous decades has a different and specific historical context, depending on our birth year, city, economic level, and the racial identities of our own families. You who aren’t “baby boomers”, stop a minute and realize what Linda Brown’s victory over the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, meant to the other little girls of her generation. We lived it from the inside out, as children, while the fabric of our own selves was being woven.
Injustice and division seem overwhelming, but look around, inside and out, and realize the majesty of what we did accomplish, and what we are. Whatever happens to our children is happening to OUR children.
We are one people.