Kids enjoying some cool, refreshing watermelon. If they were poor, they wouldn’t have known unless someone told them
A young lady responded to a post I recently submitted to Facebook that, as a child, she did not know she was poor until someone told her. I can relate to that, I would not have known we were poor if not for the fact that we qualified for government cheese and free dental care. The fact that I qualified for Lyndon Johnson’s Community Action Program also gave me a realization that we were poor.
Many times I could have forgotten that I was ‘colored’ were it not for the constant reminders at every turn. Many reminders came in the form of signs like, “Colored Only”, “Colored Served in Rear”, and there were many others.
Unfortunately, a lot of the reminders also came directly from our own people. Back then, blacks had a habit of making sure other blacks “stayed in their place”, it got to the point where white people didn’t have to bother reigning us in, we took care of it for them. We did it by calling each other the N-word and with questions like, “Where do you think you’re going?”, “Why you trying to act white?”, we kept each other in line.
You really didn’t have to go very far to be reminded that you were colored, schools were segregated, bus stations offered “separate but equal” waiting rooms. Movie theaters had a colored section, usually in the balcony. In the little village of Opal, just up the road from where I grew up, there was a truck stop on the corner. When the business moved up the road to a new location, the old building was dilapidated and falling to the ground. The only thing left standing was a side door with a sign that read “Colored”. That door stayed up for years after Jim Crow laws were shot down, it was a constant reminder that we were second class citizens. I stared at it, mesmerized, each time we passed by in the car, as though it were my first time seeing it.
Thankfully, there were also people fighting for our rights back then, even though I was completely oblivious to it at the time. Their efforts and dedication made it possible for the signs to finally come down. It took time, but they did came down, along with a lot of the attitudes. There are new signs up now, signs that say that the baggage of Jim Crow and of being colored, that I carried and still find sometimes weighing me down today, are gone. My kids and grandkids don’t bear that weight, they don’t carry the baggage of the past and of being different, everyone is different now, normal is the new different. To my kids and grandkids, the stories I tell about growing up colored are as ancient as the Civil War, as far away as forever. “Is it because I’m black?” is no longer the first question asked when young blacks get a negative response on an application of any kind, that reason would never cross their minds today. Oh, we learn every day that there is still discrimination in all aspects of life; sports, housing, businesses and other areas, but unless it’s blatant, most young people wouldn’t recognize it. To me that is a sign that our society is moving forward in a positive direction, but we can’t move forward with blinders on. Remember the old adage that “history repeats itself”, well forgotten history is the easiest to repeat. In these times, on the home front and abroad, Americans of all ages, races and cultures must take up a new sign, a new sign that reads,
“We must stay vigilant, if we want to stay free!”. Let this be the new sign of the times.