By Nan Issenberg , Lewisburg
I grew up in the Deep South. Confederate flags and White Only signs were common. I guess we were lucky because our parents taught us that all people are God’s children. But still, it was a one color world in our Texas town. White. The only Black person I knew was the church janitor.
When I was about 4, my Daddy drove the janitor home one Sunday. I peeked out over the car window and saw the “colored” section of town. Even at that young age, I was appalled at the poor state of the homes, all rickety and worn out looking.
When I was 17, our Florida high school admitted 10 Black students as a pilot program. This was 14 years after the US Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. the Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools was illegal.
The “Jim Crow” segregation of my childhood continued on through my teen years. But the 1960s brought an awakening through peaceful Black marches and televised violent attacks on the marchers. In 1964 the Civil Rights Act ended segregation in public places, and banned job discrimination based on color, religion, sex, or national origin. The Voting Rights Act passed in 1965.
I learned later that during my growing years thousands of Black men were lynched for “non-crimes” like allegedly looking at a white woman. Violent attacks on Blacks continue today in the killing of Blacks who are jogging or carrying a cellphone, and countless such “crimes” that a white person would not be stopped for under any circumstances. In some states, Black people still struggle to vote because of a variety of legal and illegal blocks by state governments.
All of this is what I tell folks when someone asks me why we have Black History Month. And so much more: we are remembering the 12 million Africans who were brutally enslaved in America between 1619 and 1865. The Blacks who were lynched for living in a white world. Those who died while fighting for our country. And all those who added to our culture in ways we never knew. One example is Greenbrier County native, Katherine Johnson, who was the main mathematician who figured out how to put men on the Moon in the 1960s. I lived near the Cape when she was working there, but didn’t know about the Black women “computers” until the Hidden Figures movie came out.
Black History Month is coming to an end, but there are wonderful and tragic stories to read all year online, and in books at the library and the local book store. Currently the Greenbrier Historical Society has an excellent virtual museum exhibit of slavery in our county. It is time for all of us to learn the lessons of my childhood. All men are created equal.