I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the Civil Rights Movement lately, and reading of black history, pre-Civil Rights. Some fiction, some true. All scary. But also inspirational and and uplifting. I’m learning more than I ever thought possible.
It’s fascinating, yet terrifying. Infuriating, yet amazing. So much hatred, so much strength, so much love, and so much weakness.
The first question that pops into my head everytime I read something about violence against a person or a group of people, or the way people are treated is: How can anyone ever treat someone that way?
Mouth-dropping things. Lynchings, burnings. Bombings. Tar & Feathering. Some done to “punish” or put someone in his/her place. Some of it just for “fun.”
Dehumanization. Brought about during slavery. There were some who felt badly about treating people that way. Well, guess what! Just consider them NON-people, and all is well. She’s not really a person, so it’s okay to force her to sew all day and all night. He’s definitely not a person, so to make him do back-breaking work in the fields is perfectly fine. Who cares if they hurt, bleed, die? THEY ARE NOT PEOPLE, SO THEY DON’T COUNT.
Slaves were considered 3/5ths of a person.
Bred for strength, or stature.
Sent to be broken, when they got “out of line.”
Used for sexual favors and/or amusement.
We know happens when a person becomes objectified.
Slaves were not allowed to read. To do so would cause “discontentment.” The slaveowners knew what they were up against, even if they didn’t want to admit it.
After slavery was abolished, the attitudes remained. Black people were less than. Nothing. That’s where racism took hold and grew. And grew and grew and grew. In the fertile soil of The Depression, it spiraled exponentially. Black men could be beaten for looking for work, if there were poor whites who were out of jobs.
Years of mistreatment, segregation, inequalities were challenged like CRAZY during the Civil Rights Movement. I’ve been doing a lot of reading about that lately, and some of the things I come across made my jaw drop.
Not without some anger, though.
Regardless of what my skin looks like, this IS my history. These were my people. They were/are Aidan’s people. Your people. Everyone’s people. And they risked their lives to fight for equality for everyone.
So why in the fresh hell had I never known about this?
Then some shame.
Because I was probably taught it, but didn’t pay much attention. That stuff was pretty boring when I was in junior high. I was more interested in whether or not that cute boy could possibly like me too (definitely not)
I do remember the story of Emmett Till. That affected me. I learned about it in 8th grade. He was a teenager from Chicago, visiting relatives in Mississippi. Fourteen years old. Tortured and killed for allegedly behaving inappropiately toward a white woman. He was from the North, had no idea of the ways of the Deep South. In the Deep South in those days, blacks knew their place.
I remember the horror I felt when they showed his picture on the video we all were watching during history class. Then later, I remember, my senior year of high school, playing Elizabeth Eckford from the The Little Rock Nine–the first nine black students to attend Central High School.
Reading the stories of those people during the Civil Rights Movement–the violence and hatred they faced, the bravery and courage they exhibited, and the fact that it was all done non-violently by those who wanted change amazes me. Really, truly amazes me. The way I live right now is because those people fought for what they knew was right. And they did it admirably and bravely. They risked their lives. They were horribly beaten, maced, harrassed, picked on. Still, they kept on. Non-violently. Showing a strength that was surely God-given.
I have to ask myself–would I ever have the guts to participate in a sit-in? Would I dare go on a Freedom Ride? Walk for a year rather than ride a bus? Go to jail multiple times? Be the first black person to enter a high school, in the midst of pure hatred and scorn?
What about you?