Writing 101, Day Six: A Character-Building Experience

Within the past year, I met two new people. Real, live people whose names I choose not to divulge. Though it is unlikely they will read this post, I am not ready to communicate with them on this level. But, “I do know for sure,” our “acquaintance relationship” will never develop into a “real and trusting friendship,” until we have an honest conversation about what I have shared in this post.

If our eyes met in the Exercise Room at the Y, on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday between 7:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., Georgia Hubby and I would share a nod and a brief smile. For three years, Georgia Hubby and I followed this ritual; and I saw no reason to do anything more.

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In all honesty, satisfied with the status-quo, I would silently say, “I know who you are,” but, “I really don’t want to know you.” On the surface, Georgia Husband seemed like a nice enough man, but, I had already formed my opinion of him. Based on two things, Georgia Husband is a:

WHITE MALE from GEORGIA with a SOUTHERN ACCENT

Georgia Hubby and My Hubby’s “acquaintance relationship” upgraded a teeny-bit to a “small talk relationship;” and; I eventually entered the “small talk circle.” Late last year, Hubby and Georgia Husband, scheduled a date for us to go out to dinner and meet his wife.

Georgia Wife is petite, barely five-feet tall, probably weighs no more than 120 pounds, still in her forties, and very focused on her career as a health care provider. I was surprised at her striking contrast to Georgia Husband, who is at least 6 feet tall, retired, 69+ years, and a happy house-husband who is quite comfortable in this role. Something, I have rarely, if ever seen.

But, again I couldn’t see Georgia Wife and my relationship going beyond a casual “couples dining out” because she is a:

WHITE FEMALE from GEORGIA with a SOUTHERN ACCENT

As we begin to have deeper conversations with the Georgia Couple other questions arose; politically, Hubby and I are as far to the left as they are to the right.

Perhaps, I can overcome the “differences” when I feel comfortable enough to express that a “difference exist.” Georgia Couple is probably assuming that Hubby and I share their views because we have failed to offer a counter-argument or voice our opinions. Politics, poverty, race, and other social issues on unfair conditions and unequal treatment, are difficult conversations to have.  Especially, with those who see things differently.

Summer vacations, as a girl, spent with my grandparents in rural Mississippi was the training ground that taught me to fear WHITE PEOPLE from the SOUTH who spoke with a SOUTHERN ACCENT. Yes, my grandparents were guilty of stereotyping, but their lives were self-programmed to fear based on the inhumane and often vicious attacks against black people in the south during their lifetime.

Compounding this, I lived through a period when scenes like the following were occurring in the south.

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Overcoming my stereotypical views of the Georgia Couple will take work. I do not fear them; but, my perception of their past life experiences as well as knowledge of their current beliefs creates a major barrier to our entering into a “real and trusting friendship.”

But, I have not given up.  This could very well happen when I decide to have an open and honest conversion with the “Georgia Couple” about my current values and beliefs as well as open up to them about my  past life experiences.

 

 

Black Travelers

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I chose to re-publish this post from last year where I shared one of my personal experiences, as an elder, who lived through Jim Crow.  Let us not forget the suffering and indignities Dr. King and other civil rights activists were subjected to in the fight for fair and equal treatment in this country.

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and

narrow-mindedness.”Mark Twain

One of my happiest childhood memories were family summer vacations.    Every year, we traveled by car from Chicago to my parents’ hometown in Coahoma, Mississippi.    Members of our closely-knit extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins joined us for this thirteen-hour drive.    We were journeying home, traveling by night, in a caravan of three to four cars through the states of Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi staying “visibly” connected to each car in the caravan along the way.    Why, because of the Jim Crow Laws in the 1950s.

  •  Reports of racial harassment and intimidation of black people while traveling were common.
  • Threats of physical harm, especially vulnerable, were cars with license plates from “up north.”

As a black traveler, you understood the restrictions and limitations under Jim CrowBlack travelers were:

  •  prohibited from using public facilities — water fountains and bathrooms.
  • barred from eating in restaurants or ordering food to go.
  • banned from staying in hotels and motels.

The children never questioned.  The adults never complainedWhy?  This was our reality.   We bypassed Jim Crow and survived.

  • We carried our supply of water, soda, paper plates/cups, napkins and plastic silverware.
  • We ate food prepared, with love, by my mother and the other women travelers.
  • We dined on homemade rolls, deep-fried pork chops and southern deep-fried chicken.
  • We consumed large bowls of macaroni and potato salad chilled on ice in coolers.
  • We lunched on ham, bologna and/or salami, placed between slices of white bread lavishly splattered with mustard and wrapped in tinfoil.   Along with the sandwich, potato chips, an apple, and cookies were packed in individual small brown paper bags.
  • We devoured slices of sweet potato pie, pound cake, coconut cake, and my favorite at the time, caramel cake.

As for using the bathroom, we carried a supply of toilet tissue, found an isolated area adjacent to the highway and the person would relieve themselves in the bushes.    However, there were times when the only option for privacy was to have someone stand in front of you.

Many of the inconveniences experienced by my family as black travelers might have been avoided had they known about The Negro Motorist Green Book:  An International Travel Guide.”   The Green Book was published by the Victor H. Green & Company annually from 1936 until 1964 when the Civil Rights Law was enacted.   An 80-page publication, it was considered as the black man’s guide to traveling.

The purpose of the Green Book is best described by the following statement from the publication:

  • “With the introduction of this travel guide in 1936, it has been our idea to give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trips more enjoyable.  For many travelers, many places are not available, even though they may have the price, and any traveler to whom they are not available, is thereby faced with many and sometimes difficult problems.  The Negro traveler’s inconveniences are many and they are increasing because today so many more are traveling, individually and in groups.  There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published.  That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States.  The Green Book with its list of hotels, boarding houses, restaurants, beauty shops, barber shops and various other services can most certainly help solve your travel problems.”     

                       

In a 2010, New York Times article entitled, “The Open Road Wasn’t Quite Open to All,” Lonnie Bunch, director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture stated:

  • “The lack of knowledge about the Green Book also tells us about the lack of knowledge many Americans now have on how segregation really worked – how it had impacts dramatic and impacts small.  But all the impacts hurt.  The more people understand that through the Green Book, the more they’ll understand how things have changed. “

What a blessing it was to travel black, as a child, unaware of the Jim Crow limitations and restrictions.   Even though Jim Crow Laws are no longer in existence, my early experiences as a black traveler shaped how I view traveling by car today.   My phobia, as an adult, is the emotional and mental stress I may have to cope with as a black traveler on the highway.   

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