Tag Archives: integration

Civil Rights are for Everyone

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“They sat so we could stand up,” reads the motto on a t-shirt in the window of the International Civil Rights Museum I recently visited  in neighboring Greensboro, North Carolina.  My Australians were in town, and they asked to go.  It was a sobering experience, even though I’d been to the museum before.

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On February 1, 1960, four young college students went to the lunch counter at the local Woolworth Dime Store.  Because of the Jim Crow laws, and because they were Negro, these young men could order at the counter, but they had to take away their food.  They could not sit and eat at the counter with white people.  And by the way, there were many other restrictions on their freedom besides that one, based only on the color of their skin.

They were not served that day, nor were they and the other young people of color who went each day from February 1 to mid-July, to sit and wait to order and be served, from opening to closing… every single day.  Persistence, politeness, and peacefulness finally broke the system.  Four employees (of color) were asked to sit, and they were served, ate their food, and integrated the lunch counter.  Part of that counter is displayed in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D. C.  The rest, there in Greensboro, is the original.

Our past is our past and our history is our history.  We have moments of pride and moments of shame.  It is the human condition, individual and collective, across time and nation.  Being in the museum, that original Woolworth’s store, in the cafe, and knowing that four brave guys took a chance to peacefully change a wrong practice for the right one made gave me goosebumps.

Civil Rights are not just about race.  They are about equality for all humankind.  You don’t need me to list all the groups for which this need for equality applies.   I’m pretty sure I’m not as courageous as the Greensboro Four, and I’m grateful they were.

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In the South…

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We don’t put our crazy aunts in the attic. We sit ‘em on the front porch and serve ‘em iced tea. That’s on t-shirts and plaques in gift shops all over the place.

I was born in the Midwest, and I moved to the South when I was sixteen. At first, it was like living in a foreign country, but time, that old doctor, and my own ability to adapt, gave me an appreciation of my new home. Even though, twelve years later, I left the South, parts of me always remained…mainly my mom, and younger brother and sister.

I remember once ordering from the Hanes Catalogue by phone and weeping after hearing the operator’s Southern accent. Parts of me adopted that drawl that never went away. “M’arm” would hurt. I’d “cut on” the lights. I’d eat “skrawberries.” Sometimes “you guys” would slip into “y’all.”

My Lake Waccamaw friend of over thirty-five years, whom I met on my wedding day in Indiana, used to say, “I wasn’t born in North Carolina, but I got here as soon as I could.” Now, I have to say, “I got back here as soon as I could.” In the decades that took me from North Carolina, back to Indiana and then to Arizona, my philosophy was “Make wherever you are home.” I never intended to return to North Carolina to live, but I thank God every single day for bringing me back.

The South has changed a lot in my absence. Everything is fully integrated for one thing, wonderfully and thankfully. Other changes are more subtle and certainly less important. The accents aren’t so pronounced, because many of us transplants have diluted the lilt. Grits aren’t on the plates in restaurants at every single meal.

Still, we eat “bald” peanuts, drink “swee’tea,” and go crazy for Carolina, State, or Duke at basketball madness time in March. Doors are opened for women. Men of a certain age still dress as if coming on or going off the golf course. The Preppy Look is still The Look. Kids still say, “Yes, m’am.” People in public places still call you “Honey, Sweetie, Baby, or Darlin’.” Most of all, though, God is very, very present, and my heart is continually being blessed.