Yep, I’m still at the beach, with “H” and my parents. Right about now, I’m probably sticking my toe in the sand somewhere and wondering if I should have used more sunscreen.
Today my friend, Diane Bailey is holding down the fort. Have you met Diane? My goodness! She is a spitfire! And such a big heart! Diane is organizing the #JTREAT meet-up at Allume this year, and I am so grateful for her. Diane’s post is an installment in the #GoingThere series. It’s a brave write. You won’t be disappointed.
I was in fourth grade when my school was integrated and I saw the concern on the faces of my parents when they talked about the “rezoning” of school districts.
Some of the children would talk about the black students that were coming to our school from Hayneville Road, as “knife toting boys”, and that the girls were tough enough to whip any boy in town. We were fear-filled that first day as the buses unloaded the black children onto the porch of white children…and we all just stared at each other.
Some of the white boys were already sizing-up the black boys for the football and basketball teams. Some of the white girls stood in the back laughing too loudly.
The first thing I noticed was the clothing on the girls. One girl was dressed as well as the wealthier girls in our school, but, most of the girls getting off the bus from Hayneville Road, were wearing older, faded dresses and jeans. They were not like us, who had new clothes to start school and wore last year’s clothing in a week or two. No, this was their best, as we would see as the year went along.
I noticed one girl in particular, whose name was Earnestine. She was always dusty-looking and wore the worst of all the dresses. They were faded and patched; and she sucked her thumb everyday. She always looked so scared; and, I wanted to say something nice to her.
One day, her hair was looking really good; so, at the lunch table I told her, “Earnestine, your hair looks good today, what did you do different?”
Earnestine smiled the biggest smile, and shrugged her shoulders. I don’t think I had ever heard her say a word.
But she was communicating, so I asked her, “Did you wash it?”
Again she smiled big, with her thumb still in her mouth, and nodded yes.
Then the girl next to me busted out laughing. “Oh! Your hair looks good today, what did you do wash it?”
My innocent but awkward fourth grade attempt at a compliment had been viewed as a degrading joke by my “friend”. But I could look at Earnestine’s face and tell that is what she heard. That was not what I meant! All I could do is stare at Earnestine. I had not learned social skills of handling a conversation gone wrong. To this day I think about Earnestine, and wish I could have corrected the conversation. I pray that God has shown her how beautiful she is in His eyes. I still get teary when I think about it.
At church the next Sunday, I discovered that most everyone in my Sunday school class had been pulled out of public school that year, and was now attending private schools. The topic of the first day at school with black children was not a conversation at the table.
One Sunday my parents were driving home from church, whispering about something that happened during the church service. I stayed very quiet but listened intensely – when a parent whispers, so that you cannot hear, then it is always important information to know!
They said that during the offering a man refused to allow a visiting family to give any money. The usher took the offering plate right out of the visitor’s hands! I could tell that my parents were saddened as they whispered. But they didn’t feel like they had the authority to go against the church. The visiting family was black.
When I was fifteen, and about to begin High School, the Board of Education rezoned the city, again; and this time they did what they called “reverse integration”. That is where they gathered a group of white children and sent them to a predominantly black school. So, instead of attending Sidney Lanier High School were my daddy attended, I was rezoned to George Washington Carver High School. I now found myself, and my friends, in the minorities.
High School went well. I hear later that news team from around the world were across the street waiting for riots to begin. Despite any fear any of us had about integrating a black school, there were not any notable problems as far as I can remember.
I thought that I was pretty opened minded about race. When my children had birthday parties we invited everyone – red, yellow black and white – everyone.
But the day my daughter brought home a man of African American heritage, I found that I was not as open minded as I thought.
Not knowing what to do, I went to an older woman in our church for advice. I had expected her to commiserate with me, but her response surprised me.
“Pray for him, Diane; and, show him the love of Christ. That will either run him off, or change your heart.”
I am happy to say my heart was changed and now I call this young man my family, my son, and father to the most beautiful grandchildren I have ever seen in my life. My daughter hears frequently that these grandchildren are more beautiful and intelligent than both of their parents and grandparents!
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:28 NIV)
Diane W. Bailey lives in the deep South with her husband, Doc and wears the hats of wife, mom, stepmom, mom-in-love and Gigi. In her after hours she is an author, conference speaker and blogs about family and stepfamily. Her favorite foods are grits with shrimp and banana pudding!
Note from Deidra: The idea for “Going There” came about as a result of the 31 Days In My Brown Skin series I wrote in October, 2012. (You can read those posts here.) The series generated a lot of valuable dialogue, and when the thirty-one days were over, it felt as if the conversation wasn’t done. So, I invite you to share your story as it relates to issues of race, ethnicity, and culture in your every day life.
The goal of “Going There” is to encourage ongoing dialogue about topics of race, ethnicity, and culture in a way that is thoughtful and that shows respect, with the goal of advancing our understanding of the beautiful diversity in the humanity that surrounds us. Interested in sharing your story? Start here.