All we have heard the past week has been the ugliness that took place in Charlottesville, VA, the murder of a young woman, the hateful voices of young people who evidently are ignorant of the terrible history of the organizations they espouse to promote.
I grew up in a deeply segregated south where black people worked on our farm and in our house, but I never knew a black child my own age because we went to different schools, different churches, and even at the movies, the blacks had to sit in the balcony of the theater.
I was young when the world turned upside down in our town. I paid little attention to all the hoopla about blacks sitting at the counter in Woolworth's. Because I did not know any black people personally, I, as a sheltered white girl, did not feel their humiliation and pain when they were turned away because of their skin color. Like most of the white kids, I lived in my own little world which consisted of who I was dating on Saturday night and what I and my friends would be doing on the weekend. After all, I had my own cross to bear. I was a skinny girl who wore glasses. I had that to overcome!
When I heard my father talk about a black man being lynched in Baker County and the sheriff condoned it, I was outraged at the injustice. How could a man of the law turn his back on a murder of someone? Why did he let the evil men get away with it? Why didn't good people do something about it?
As I reflect on those times, I realize that white men like my father felt as helpless as the victims of these horrendous injustices. My father had no power. He had no money and no voice and if he did make a fuss, how would it affect him and his family? His first responsibility was to keep his own family safe.
I am ashamed to say those things did not touch my personal life so I put them out of my mind. Looking back now I see the two separate worlds I grew up in -- seeing black people but not knowing them. Hearing of their hardships, but feeling I could do nothing to help them.
I never heard any hate from my parents toward any other race. In fact my parents empathized with the black people in our community. But whites and blacks did not socialize. My brothers played corncob war with the neighboring black boys who were their age. That was before they were old enough to go with girls and go to parties.
Someone asked me how I could have grown up in the deep south and not be prejudiced. I had no reason to be prejudiced. No black person ever did anything that hurt me. In fact the maids that cleaned for my mother were sweet to me. I always felt a little guilty after I was in my teens to have someone come and do chores I should have been doing. I could never have felt hate or even dislike for those kind people. When I went with my mother to take the maid home, the sight of their housing and neighborhood bothered me. But I accepted it as just the way things were.
Unlike my peers who grew up more affluent than I, we did not have a nanny or live-in maid. Mother was lucky to have someone come once a week to help with the heavy house work. My friends who had a black woman help raise them, loved that woman and still believe she loved them. The feel their nanny was well taken care of by their parents.
It has only been in recent years with movies made from the point of view of the Negroes of that time such as The Butler and The Help that I received an education about life from the other side. Now I can put myself in their shoes and feel empathy for all the hurt caused by white people. I think I saw some of that when I was younger and it made me angry when some cocky white man intentionally tried to make a person feel bad about himself. And I felt the frustration when the black person just laughed and did not defend himself.
After I finished college and came home to Albany, Georgia where I grew up, emboldened by my knowledge gained while away, I called out a minister of my mother's church because of the racism I knew prevailed there.
"No blacks will ever come to this church. We'll meet 'em at the door and send them packing." That was what I heard some members had said.
I told him I could not believe the message preached each Sunday when I knew the congregation hated a group of people just because of their color. "What kind of church, what kind of minister would turn away those who would want to worship in your House of the Lord?"
I give that young preacher credit. He went back and talked to those folk, but it only caused problems for him. He was gone a short time later. The attitudes of the Christians I knew then had a great deal to do with my feelings about Christianity today. I am still scorned by some of my Baptist friends for being a Presbyterian, a more open-minded and inclusive denomination.
As a mature adult who lived in that other world, I can only speak out by writing about those days and urge others to bury their prejudice and hatred and accept all people, no matter their race or religion.
I go back to my country roots now. If we don't reach out in kindness and understanding, our country is doomed to split apart like a rotten watermelon when dropped on the ground -- inside all the fruit is mushy and sour, the heart having given up.