This is my second article on “I Used To Be Racist.” My childhood was very interesting. Aside from being a child who was sick all of the time I grew up in an area of Chicago that was decent, but untouched by the woes of the world. I learned a lot because I read a lot. My niece, Adojsha, asked me how I know so much. I told her I read a lot as a child.
Because I read so much and that little black and white television my parents had, I learned a lot. I was 5 years old when the sixties came in and it was a lot to learn in those days.
I saw the cover of my mother’s Jet magazine. At first I thought the picture was of a monster or Frankenstein because the head was large and disfigured. I saw the heading and remember glancing through the magazine, but I guess I was too young to grasp what the picture was. Later I found out that it was Emmett Till. A teenaged boy who was killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. This incident occurred a few years before I saw the article and a few days after I was born but it remained in my view for years after I saw the article.
I remember hearing about the little girls who were killed in a church bombing in 1963, in Birmingham Alabama. There wasn’t too much said about this in my household and I never heard about it in school. I never gave it much thought. Maybe it didn’t register because I was only eight years old at the time.
In that same year, I heard about Medgar Evers being assassinated. I wasn’t taught too much about this crime of hate at home or in school either.
Malcom X was killed in 1965. I was 10.
I remember traveling to Union City Tennessee from Chicago. My father drove the 7 or 8 hours on highway 51 to get there. When we got to Effingham, Illinois, he would make us use the bathroom because we couldn’t stop in Cairo, Illinois for fear of being attacked and beaten or killed by the white people who lived there. On one occasion, my cousin’s wife went with us and she didn’t take heed to my father’s instruction to use the bathroom while we were in Effingham. When we got to Cairo, she had to use the bathroom. My father had a fit and started fussing but eventually he had to stop.
We stopped at a gas station and my mother, being a quick thinker, told my cousin to put a pillow under blouse and act pregnant. They got out and a white man, displaying pure hatred on his face told my mother and cousin they go around the back to use the bathroom. My father was sweating bullets until they came back to the car and we got out of Cairo. He didn’t settle down until we made it to Fulton, Kentucky.
My parents kept my brother and I well. They loved us nurtured us with a few speed bumps every now and again. They didn’t hate, or at least they didn’t show it. They were loving and caring people. My mother didn’t know a stranger and she was known for taking care of other’s needs before her own.
These events marked my childhood. I didn’t understand why people could be so full of hatred toward other people they didn’t even know. But God seemed to be giving us a hero, a Moses when He gave the country Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was met with aggressive resistance from the whites and what surprised me even more was, for a short period of time, he was met with passive resistance in my own household. Doesn’t that remind you of Moses?
Next: I Used To Be Racist pt 3 – The Turn Toward Hatred