Tuesday, 07 February 2012 19:42
“Colored only” signs no longer linger over rest rooms and water fountains, children are no longer separated into white and black schools and the phrase “separate but equal” is no longer acceptable, but the memories of our region’s Jim Crow past linger on. Alabama, including the little town of Scottsboro, has a history rich in racism, but we have come a long way in the past 60 years. Our checkered past with race relations gives us something heavy to reflect upon during this month dedicated to black history.
Last Wednesday, at The Scottsboro Boys Museum, the public had the opportunity to hear the personal testimony of a lady whose life has been dedicated to obtaining and securing equal rights for black citizens.
“I thought all children marched and went to jail.” That’s how Joanne Bland, Co-Founder and Former Director of the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute in Selma, remembers her childhood.
She was eight years old when she attended a freedom and voter’s rights meeting presided over by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. At an age when most of today’s young children aren’t even allowed to watch violence on TV Bland was living and witnessing some of our country’s most violent crimes against humanity. She marched on “Bloody Sunday” and “Turn Around Tuesday” where she saw white police men beat down and angrily shoot those who marched along beside her. She was arrested 13 times by the time she was 11 years old, and all because her skin had a bit more pigmentation than society thought was acceptable.
In 1968, Bland, along with seven other black students, integrated her high school in Selma. On Wednesday, she addressed the Scottsboro High School students in the audience saying that she wished they had been her fellow students. “No body that I encountered would even sit in a pew with me because of the color of my skin. I don’t get mad at you about the color of your hair, why would you get mad at me about the color of my skin? But that’s the way it was.”
She talked about the evolution of our country and how it seems that historical issues often repeat themselves rather than change for the better because we don’t recognize the ills of society when we see them. Bland said, “As we get more and more educated we keep giving them new names.” As an example she told about a time when her father asked her to explain racial profiling. “I explained it to the best of my ability. My daddy, who was 82 years old, fell back on the sofa just laughing! I said ‘daddy that’s not funny.’ It hurt me that my daddy would laugh at something so terrible. He said ‘It’s funny to me baby, when I was growing up it was a way of life, and now y’all got this big fancy name for it.”
Her physical presence in that old church house and the stories of her historic experiences served as a priceless reminder that the past is never far behind, and it is of tremendous importance that people don’t forget. Perhaps the simplest and most important advice she gave was this, “Know who you are. Know where you’ve been. Because it’s every generation’s responsibility to make the world a better place.”
Other opportunities to celebrate Black History Month in Scottsboro at the Scottsboro Boy’s Museum include a book signing by Waights Taylor, Jr., Author of Our Southern Home- The Transformation of the South in the Twentieth Century at 1 p.m. on Saturday, February 18 and Dr. Andrew T. Holtz, Pastor of Greater St. Paul A.M.E. will speak on Sunday, February 24.
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