TITLE: Hart & Soul, Part II: South by Northeast
By RENEE GREENE
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In Denver, and Detroit -- children of all races and nationalities attended school together, went to church together, broke bread together, shared hospital rooms and the halls of orphanages together. No one had to force them--they made a quality choice; and the end benefit was a far sight better than what we saw in the south.
When schools down south were forced to integrate approximately 14 years after Brown v Board, the black students were forced to go to white schools and watch their own neighborhoods being torn down and shut down. This wasn't being overcome, this was being overrun. They didn't like it. The race riots began; and when those little racks of civil disobedience didn't work, at least in Columbus anyway -- the children started tearing the schools down--being intentionally destructive out of rebellion. it didn't take 14 years to integrate because white people resisted, it took 14 years because neither blacks nor whites were interested. What they wanted was better for their own schools and children, the use of their own tax dollars to benefit black schools--not subordination to whites.
Black education was severely undermined by integration. The black teachers were having enough of a struggle trying to work with them. When black kids were placed in white schools with teachers who could care less if they lived or died, and who would so easily and systematically place them in classes for the 'educably retarded' (like Mamie Brown's boy, Les), rather than take on the tough job of working through their shields and swords, they crumbled and ultimately lost out altogether. The state of the black public school system in Columbus today is in a shambles of a wreck with rubble that may never be recovered.
Little by little, the integration of Columbus has started to dismantle and return to segregated blocs. Years later, a little black girl would be heard to say, "I don't care. Who wants to go to school with them anyway?" Well, bye bye, MLK's dream of The Beloved Community. It simply didn't work out except maybe in a few select spots here and there across the nation. What's left of the staunch Columbus elite who put down iron pins of black history between 18th Street, 5th Avenue, St John Alley, Hamilton Road, and Fourth Street all the way down to the Chattahoochee River, are a few markers commemorating what used to be.
When we came "down souf," in 1965, we had already experienced what The Movement was fighting for. We were too young to conceptualize the whole racism thing in America, but I did notice "something different" when I went to Claflin. I'm certain Tresa was more aware of what was going on; she was nine, I was only six. By the time I was her age, Dr. King was gone and the Civil Rights Movement nearly literally went to the grave with him. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and a few others, tried to put it on life support and revive it and make it live up to its legacy, but a glance at today's news will tell you what the long-term results of that effort have been.
My family wasn't big on Civil Rights advocacy. They were "que sera sera" people, who held King in high esteem after he died, though they had little faith in what he was doing while he was alive. Their only stance: If it works out, hurrah; if not, it figures. I could scarcely believe these people were my family. I was only a kid and I knew that our role should have been more active than sitting in St John AME "amening" the preacher when he spoke on such matters; and leaving after church with a "maybe he will and maybe be won't" shrug of the shoulders. It was almost embarrassing to watch my family's stance during the Civil Rights Movement--they were only moved by what did happen, not what could.
"Up nawth," kids started school as early as three. "Down souf," you had to be six to get in kindergarten. It was ridicuolous. I can't begin to tell you how far that set me back in life. I came to Columbus knowing my ABC's, counting to 100, calling out my multiplication tables (up to 10x), printing and cursive-writing my name, and reciting The Night Before Christmas by heart. That was by age three. By the time they let me in Claflin at age six, I was so far advanced that I bored easily. After zipping through all the grade school readers and senior high school English books, my teachers--Ms Griffin, Ms Hill--brought in newspapers (Ledgers and Enquirers) for me to read. They tried to find things to keep me occupied while they taught the other students, but I spent most of my school days the first and second years in a corner doing nothing. That's when I began to fantasize about becoming a writer at the newspapers.
Prior to that, people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said "Interior Decorator, Fashion Designer." They laughed. I was a black female, this was America. How possible was that? Get real, I was told. Maybe a teacher, a nurse, possibly a "sucker-tare," but those types of jobs was for white folk, I was told; and nobody but men are supposed to be preachers and doctors.
After I began to read the stories in the L-E, began to understand to some degree the impact of news reporting on daily life, the journalism of being able to tell a story about someone's life and portray it vividly and professionally--I was hooked, to say the least. Then, my mother entered a poem in the Christmas poetry contest and tacked my name to it. Man, the accolades I got at Claflin when "my" poem appeared as the first one on the front page of the paper. I felt bad that she wrote it, but she left me something I never forgot. A desire to write. A blank piece of paper never scared my mother into "writer's block submission," a blank page was something for her to fill up with one thing or another...lists, crazy poems, more lists, letters, puzzles, designs, more lists... One day, I told myself, I'm going to be a news reporter at the Ledger and the Enquirer. (Back then, they were two separate papers for morning and evening routes.)
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