"Stay out of our schools."
"We don't want your kind around our children."
"This isn't the governments decision."
These were the yells that followed the new students into school. The year was 1955 and I remember it too well. Every other year blended in with the one before it, and the one after it. But not 1955, the year the black schools joined the white.
I'm not telling this story so that I can be recognized as a hero. I'm not one. I'm telling it because when I did this thing, I had a message. And I want it to keep being heard.
The parents held their signs high and their voices higher. "This is a good Christian school and we don't want any riff raff."
"Church and State are separate!"
"This isn't a decision for the Senate, it is God's."
"Protect the kids."
Every day, they were followed in by slander like this. Every day.
On their third day, I used charcoal to darken my skin. It took me a while, because I wanted it to look real. It had to be even. But I arrived on time, with the rest of the black students. I ignored the insults, and the bits of garbage thrown at me. Just like they did.
Throughout the day, I picked spit-soaked bits of paper out of my hair. I ignored the painful stomach jabs my classmates gave me. I listened intently to the teacher, even though she never called on me when I raised my hand.
And when the doors let out that afternoon, and the students with their parents were waiting to protest again, I paused at the top of the steps. I pulled my hair back away from my face, tying it behind my head with a ponytail. "Do you think this is what God wants?" I yelled over their chants. The voices stopped; their stares focused on me. "One day in this life, and I already want to surrender. Today was the worst day of my life. You could not walk a day in these shoes, and I don't think I could walk two." I pulled a wet rag out of my pocket, and began wiping charcoal off my face. "It's a good thing I don't have to."
The murmurs broke out, humming like a swarm of bees who've found a pop can. Something delicious to feast on. Sugar and gossip.
I continued. "But they do." I walked to the nearest sign-bearing mother and ripped the cardboard in half. "You all know me. You know who I am. Yet with a different skin color, I am a different person." My voice became louder. "My friends- God is not color-blind. Yet he put us all on the same planet. What do you think he really wants?"
I walked to my mother's car, waiting by the street. The engine was the only accompanying sound. Every face watched me leave with closed lips, and the next morning, no one showed up but the students.
It wasn't grand, what I did. If anything, it was arrogant. But I got the point across. I want the message to keep being heard. And color isn't the only problem- I've seen more prejudice than I've seen kindness.
But God is kind. He is loving. He doesn't want fights and wars and hatred. Yet he put us all together. Why do you think that is?
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