Happy Feature Friday, everybody! As we bring this inspirational campaign to a close I leave you with another wisdom-filled, reflective piece — a bookend, if you will — in honor of Black History Month. Please welcome once again, my dad. Please leave your comments and encouragements below!
Segregation: from my perspective
seg·re·ga·tion (seɡrəˈɡāSH(ə)n/), n. – a setting apart or separation of people or things from others or from the main body or group.
I have been asked on many occasions over the years, what it was like the live in America during the time of segregation. I answer this way: if any of us today had a problem there are many things that we might do to rid ourselves of the problem. We could hire an attorney, go talk to a judge, a priest, policemen. Or, we might even approach an upstanding individual to get some help, some kind of relief. But suppose that all of the people mentioned above were in agreement against you. Where could you go? To whom could you turn for help?
Looking at segregation from the perspective of those not affected by segregation makes it seem quite benign. However, for those who have lived it, it is one of the most degrading and humiliating situations imaginable. People and animals are naturally segregated and should be. We segregate criminals from the mainstream society for the safety of the non-criminals; that, too, should be. But to segregate one group of law-abiding people from the mainstream of society because of the color of their skin is a different issue. To deprive certain citizens of the privileges allowed to the rest of the citizens should have been criminal, and likely, it was. Consequently, in the case of segregation, the law had to be suspended in order for it to work. That meant that an awful lot of citizens had to agree to the segregation, and they did.
The truth of the matter is that we, African Americans, had absolutely no choice about it. Everyone made us feel inferior. Worthless. At one point we were not even considered to be human — that according to the constitution of the country! Imagine a seventy-year-old black man or woman having to say “yes, sir” or “no, ma’am” to a two- or three-year-old white child. If they failed to do so, they could be beaten, arrested or even hanged, depending on the mercy (or a lack of mercy) of any white people present at the time. We had to ride in the back of the bus and we were not allowed to walk past a white person on the sidewalk. We would have to yield the sidewalk to them by stepping into the gutter if we crossed paths; and we could not ever approach the front door of white person’s home. It was a trying time for African Americans in this country. If there had been a way for us to hide who we were, we surely would have just escaped that terrible humiliation. I have heard lots of different groups declare that there is no difference between their struggle and that of the African Americans. I beg to differ.
I remember one day, when I was in junior high school, three of us young boys were very upset and crying because some white kids had passed by and yelled at us. They’d called us names (some derogatory in nature). I remember our P.E. teacher, Mr. P. E. Pile, came by and asked what we were so upset over. We told him what had happened and we asked him why the white people hated us so much. They didn’t even know us. What did we ever do to them?
Mr. Pile told us that God had made all of mankind out of the soil (dirt) of the earth. Then he asked us, “Would you rather be made of white sand, red clay or black mud?” All three of us had spent time working in the fields, so we knew the type of soil that was used to plant crops in. So, we answered, “Black mud.”
“That’s right,” he said, “because black mud has all the nutrients and minerals and produce grows the best there. So, you see? God made made you out of the best stuff. So don’t you feel inferior to anybody.” Even though that didn’t change one little thing in our lives from the outside, I think that we all felt a little better about ourselves. At least we knew why we were so hated.
Segregation had the tendency to strip a person of any sense of worth. I remember that at one time I thought that the white people were so superior to us that they never even had to use the restroom. But even as a young kid I recognized how stupid the whole thing was. We segregate animals because they generally have very little in common. You wouldn’t put dogs and rabbits together. No tigers and antelopes, or snakes and squirrels, not even cats and birds. But people? People are the same, only with a different color coat on.
I remember that during a tornado we could share a storm cellar. But once the storm had passed, things went back to the way they were. Never the twain shall meet. Our mothers could nurse their babies, train their children and even teach them. They could not, however, use the same restroom or drink from the same water fountain. It’s hard to wrap one’s head around what must have gone wrong with people who could think and believe like that.
There are many people who came through those times who cannot get over the hatred that was thrown at them; they are scarred for life. But as for me, I think that we made it out. The reason that the windshield in our cars is so much larger than the rear-view mirror is because it is not profitable to spend too much time looking back. We have already gotten past that point in our lives and we were not destroyed. I, for one, am not willing to be destroyed by something that I have already beaten.
God has restored far more to me than I ever lost, including a heart that can love and be loved. The only thing that I’m taking out of the past is me. I will live in my blessings; I will honor my blessings; I will share my blessings; I will use my blessings to be a blessing to others. I have laid all of the hurt and humiliation at the feet of those evil people who perpetrated such devastation upon us, and I pray for them.
As our celebration of Black History Month comes to a close, I hope that people will remember that our history serves to show us how far we have come and how far we have yet to go.
About the author: Anyone who has had the privilege of a conversation with Ray knows that he is a well of wisdom. A lifetime of sometimes unbelievable but always amazing experiences has served all who know him very well — family, friends and strangers, alike. Although he is retired from the field of college education — he ran the Industrial Technology Department at Allan Hancock College for almost thirty years and his time there is decorated with countless accolades — Ray continues to teach one class each semester in order to continue imparting his life and work experience on the next generation. He is currently writing his memoir.