During this my 65th year of being, Black History Month is a time to remember from whence we came, what we went through, what we have achieved and where our promise lies. My mother used to leave me exasperated referring to us as Colored People; until I found my birth certificate and appreciated that I was listed as Colored. During my time we have gone in the popular vernacular from niggras to colored to negroes to Negroes to Black to Afro-Americans to African Americans and back to Black again. NWA a popular group wants to regress us further and comics think nothing of using the N word gratuitously rather than get us to laugh at the humor in our lives.
Growing up “Colored” in Durham, NC in the south, it was unacceptable for kids not to go to school or not read or not behave. We all were taught and appreciated that for the masses, education would allow us to make a way out of no way. No one owed us anything; it was up to us to get and fight for what we wanted. Parents regardless of their socio-economic status took a certain pride in having children who defied the stereotypes placed on us for our families were our safety nets and most important institutions. On my block most of the children were born within a marriage and every home with a child had a father in that house who worked every day taking whatever pay to help his family find its way. The Historically Black Colleges were an anchor and stimulator of our cultural and intellectual heritage sponsoring band festivals, summer science and math programs, sports meets, homecoming parades, unparalleled lyceum series bringing in the Joffrey Ballet or an opera singer such as Mattawilda Dobbs of the Atlanta, GA Dobbs and higher educational opportunities denied us by white institutions were made possible through them.
Prior to the sixties we rarely strayed to the white side of town or frequented downtown unless to our businesses there; not because we were afraid, but because with few exceptions we had most of what we needed within the confines of our own community. There were painters, carpenters, plumbers, mechanics, cabs, a dry cleaners, postal substation with likely the first black postmistress in Mrs. Bernice H. Ingram, a newspaper with “The Truth Unbridled”, library, about six doctors, several dentists, our own financial institutions and so much more. My father would say about utilizing segregated businesses-you don’t pay a man who segregates you to then serve you.
The church was our rock and from the one my father assumed (The White Rock Baptist Church) had come the local library, public health services in the minority community, the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, community recreation programs, worker organization efforts, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and so much more to engage citizens on all levels. International relationships were there from those engaged in Africa or with an Asa T. Spaulding, Sr.’s of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance company’s sponsorship of George Allen from the Agency for International Development. We also learned to take care of the poor without government help from our clothes closets, food drives and special offerings for scholarships, those burned out of their homes or from the efforts of our home mission societies. And we marveled as one of our own, tore up the NBA in the person of Sam Jones whose records for accuracy and championship rings elevated him to the ranks of one of the NBA Hall of Fame’s top 50 greatest athletes. The church would do and provide what wasn’t available elsewhere.
Reminiscing with my fellow baby boomers, it is not uncommon to hear folks say in many ways we were better off during segregated times than we are now — Integration stripped away a history which was the base of our foundation as well as that for this nation. We were required to assimilate while others have taken our knowledge as their own and we watch as our kids don’t appreciate the relevance of personal liberty which coloreds had as important to our well-being and survival. Blacks were pivotal in building the US Capitol, laying out the streets of Washington, DC via Benjamin Banneker as well as building a clock to keep us on time, being the model for the Statue of Liberty given to the nation in recognition of the end of slavery (not as a beacon for immigrants), establishing the Republican Party, fostering the economy of the south and many of the inventions of the industrial revolution as well as through the work of Charles Drew showing us that blood can be transfused from one person to another across ethnic lines making us all brothers under the skin.
If only there were more time for I love to tell the story, which in so many ways is my inspiration.