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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Looking into the past...

I just finished reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Yes, I know the book has been out for years but my TBR pile is so high I'm surprised I got to it at all.

It was not at all what I'd expected. I suppose I expected something funny, something scandalous... But instead, I found myself confronting memories of my past.

You see, in 1967 I moved with my family from New Jersey to the Mississippi Delta. My father was an FBI Agent and he was placed in charge of the Greenville, Mississippi office. The 1960's was a violent decade filled with images of the Vietnam War, draft dodgers, campus riots... And in the Mississippi Delta, it was also filled with cross burnings, molotov cocktails, beatings and lynchings.

I remember my mother marveling that "even the maids have maids" in Greenville. The neighbor children on either side of us, in fact, were being raised by maids who arrived every morning and departed just after suppertime. The buses ran in one direction in the morning - from the black homes to the white homes - and in the opposite direction in the evening, all to bring the maids to their employers.

It was a time when black people had to enter stores by a different door - and only those stores who wanted to accept their business. They were generally not served in the same restaurants but could sometimes buy food from the restaurant's back door. Water fountains were for white people only, and occasionally there would be another water fountain or perhaps a pipe for the black people. Rest rooms in public places were never shared under any circumstances. The white schools got the supplies they needed while the black schools made do.

Our family was appalled at the treatment of human beings of color and I watched my mother time and time again go out of her way to be nice to them. (We did not have a maid, by the way; my mother believed in raising her children herself.) My father's work involved breaking up the Ku Klux Klan, which the FBI did successfully, greatly reducing their ranks and bringing to justice many who had committed violent acts.

I couldn't wait to get out of the Delta and at my first opportunity - in 1976 - I did just that.

But in reading The Help, it also showed me just how far we've come.

Who would have thought in 1964 when three civil rights workers were murdered for attempting to register black voters, that in less than 50 years we would have a black president in the White House?

Who would have believed that the days of segregation would become such a distant memory that our children and our children's children cannot even imagine it?

My favorite song of all time is Imagine by John Lennon. It was written in 1971 and released in 1975 (1980 in the UK) when America was still undergoing radical changes.

I like to think that we're moving toward a world in which we accept all human beings regardless of their race or color.



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