Gone with the Wind

“Something I didn’t know was broken has started to heal and it hurts,” Sarah over at Hill Trash says. She cries.

I understand. I grew up in a broken world, only I didn’t know it was broken at the time. Nor did I know that the sense of unfairness I felt in the midst of a common climate of acceptance of moral injustice would linger well into my adulthood.

This election wasn’t about race to me in the beginning. It was about a man — his brilliance, his stance, his voice, his charisma. I will love seeing Michelle and two little girls in the White House. And a puppy! It’s like Camelot all over again.

But this election has made history because of race. The United States of America has elected a black president. I never thought I would see this in my lifetime. I didn’t think my children would see it, and it brings tears to my eyes to fathom that I will have grandchildren born to a country with a black president.

In the 1860s Great-Great Grandfather Hardy owned slaves — black people he bought to work on his farm. In the 1960s I was but a kid when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed — the same year three civil rights workers were murdered, not far from the farm of Grandfather Hardy, for trying to register black voters.

When I tell my grandchildren stories of my childhood, they will not believe the world I grew up in. A world divided. A world of Black and White. A world of separate water fountains, separate restrooms, separate waiting rooms for the picture show and the doctor. Separate schools, separate churches. A world separated by the railroad tracks and a need of Whites to preserve their way of life and keep the Blacks in their place.

I was a child of the 1950s and 60s in the Mississippi Delta, when the fields were full of black hands choppin’ and pickin’ cotton and singing their Blues. And they had no rights. In my town they lived on the other side of the tracks. Many times I rode in the back seat of the Ford Fairlane east on College Street — it was a straight shot to Highway 61 — over Jones Bayou, over the railroad tracks, where College became Lee Street at the edge of Black Town, but instead of Black, people used the N word. I remember looking out the window and taking in that different world — unfit abodes, some pieced together with raw cypress, tin, and tar paper; stark poverty; shameful living conditions.

Blacks could not vote then. There was a test on the constitution (that they were certain to fail) and a poll tax (that they could not afford). Or there might’ve been a threat to the likes of “Boy, you better go on back where you belong.” They couldn’t go to school with the whites … until forced integration. A black girl came to my high school for the first time during my junior year. I wish I could say I was friendly to her, but I wasn’t. I wasn’t unfriendly. I just wasn’t friendly.

In the 70s I Iived in a small town in southern Mississippi, where blacks lived in the Bottom and walked looking down — wouldn’t meet eyes with a white — and stepped off the sidewalk into the street when a white passed by them. In the 80s I lived in a small town in the Delta where I saw a black child being denied a library book. I was looking at picture books with my two tiny sons, when a little black girl took a book to the front desk. “You know you can’t check out a book. You don’t have a library card. Now go on, get outta here,” the librarian said with disdain, shooing her away, like she was a pesty fly. I remembered when I moved there, that same librarian had handed me a card happily and told me to go get two signatures on it. My jaw froze when I heard her response to the girl. I couldn’t say anything, I couldn’t think quickly enough, I couldn’t offer to sign a card. I couldn’t believe it. It bothered me so much that a week later I called the main branch of the library system and reported the incident. Within a month, the librarian in my town retired.

That little girl is probably in her late thirties now. She probably just voted for a black president.

From now on in this land, race will be understood differently.

This is a new world. The old one is gone with the wind.

And I can only hope that also gone are the attitudes that keep us divided and dysfunctional. We are not Republicans. We are not Democrats. We are not Conservatives. We are not Liberals. We are not Blacks. We are not Whites.

We are Americans.


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