I was born in Tennessee and have lived here my entire life. Born into a rural hard-working farming family, the 3rd of 4 children. We were not by any means wealthy; however, we lived in a nice house and never lacked for food due to my father’s amazing ability to grow all types of vegetables and my mother’s ability to can or freeze those vegetables. We also had animals for sources of meat.
To me living in this rural white community was “normal.” In the town about 15 miles away there was a Black community, but I never encountered many people of color in town because our trips to town were few. My parents were kind and loving people who never taught hate or racism. Living close to our church, our home was the place where the church-supported missionaries stayed during their visits. So I grew up with a variety of people of color from South Korea, Papua New Guinea and various locations throughout the US. Also, the person who took livestock to the market for my father was a Black man. All persons visiting our home were treated the same way and all joined us for meals.
When the famous traveling evangelical preacher, Marshall Keeble, came to preach in Nashville, my father loaded the whole family into the car and we went to hear him. He was an inspiring and wonderful preacher. The church was filled with Black faces and my family. I thought nothing of this since my parents modeled this as “normal.”
Imagine my awakening when in the sixties there was a sit-in at Krystal in Nashville. As I watched this on TV, I asked my husband, “Why is this happening?” He told me that Black people could not get served in restaurants. I was literally floored! I had no idea that this was the way our world worked. I went on to learn that this was the tip of the iceberg. Separate restrooms, separate water fountains, only low-paying jobs, separate schools, etc. Obviously, I had lived a protected life.
My rural education was based on books that did not include Black history, but I did not know that. I was a child and thought these books represented a true reflection of history. Books written by white writers and approved by white leaders who chose not to report history accurately. I began to learn that the “War of Northern Aggression” was really a war fought around the practice of the ownership of slaves. Later, I would ask myself, “Is this the Land of the Free?”
Here we are in 2020 and I continue to learn. The GI bill was rigged to prevent Black soldiers from being able to use it? The New Deal excluded Black persons? There was a massacre in Tulsa? Every new injustice that I learn about fills me with sadness and anger.
To my friends of color and to all people of color—forgive us, we know not what we do—but we are learning.
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