Friday, January 13, 2006

The 2nd American Civil War Part 2

1956, the year my family moved from California to Georgia was an eye-opening experience for me. While attending school in Monterey and Pacific Grove I would take the bus, public transportation. You could sit anywhere on the bus and I usually sat near the door. I don’t remember the buses being particularly crowded but that memory might be a bit foggy as I was just six years old. No black people on the bus, on the horizon, in view, nothing.

I also rode the bus to school in Atlanta, the #2 Westview, which went from my bus stop on Ponce de Leon , stopping at Sacred Heart Church where I got off, then it continued to the end of the line at the Westview Cemetery. There were black people on the bus, they sat in the back. I remember there were vinyl screens that separated the white from the black sections though you could easily see each other. Whites could sit in the back, we school children often did, but blacks could not sit in front. There even stencils posted instructing Negroes to sit in the rear of the bus. This all changed when Rosa Parks decided she was too tired to walk to the back of the bus.

Rosa Parks was the catalyst of the modern phase of the second American Civil War. Though change, real change, was in the air with the 1954 case of Brown vs.Board of Education. Living in Georgia in the 1950s blacks were basically invisible. My classmates and friends, I have since figured out, were white southerners first, Roman Catholics second, and citizens of the United States third. The word nigger was commonplace, even to my surprise and confusion among the blacks you could hear conversing on the street. It was a time of turmoil just beginning, it was not unusual to read in the newspaper of a black man being sentenced to death for raping a white woman or of hearing on the radio about a lynching. At my age then, about 10 years old, it just another thing happening. At age 13 I got a job delivering newspapers and became an avid reader of the Atlanta Journal. The Ku Klux Klan was an organization I became familiar with because they hated blacks, Jews, and Catholics, and I remember feeling a slight sense of fear about them. Nothing, I imagine, like the fear black folks felt.

As I look back on Atlanta in the 1950s and 60s it is a time that seems unimaginable today, but it happened. There was a thriving Afro-American community at the time, centered in Auburn Avenue and the surrounding streets. We called it “Buttermilk Bottom” a slightly nicer name than “Nigger Town”. It’s mostly gone now thanks to urban redevelopment and welfare. We watched on television as Martin Luther King jr. went to Montgomery, Alabama to promote the boycott of the white owned stores in support of Rosa Parks. A judge ordered an end to the boycott, which even at my age, seemed stupid. How can you force people to shop where they don’t want to? The protest worked, the bus rules were changed and the fight was on. I wouldn’t be long before a second Federal invasion of the south would take place.

I happened in Little Rock, Arkansas when Governor Faubaus refused to allow black students to attend Central High School. President Eisenhower was outraged and dispatched the 101st Airborne Division to enforce the law, a visible result of the  Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education.. Only those who lived through those times can know the feelings of fear, and hatred that began to permeate every conversation. We hear about it now, but history is empty of emotion and cannot convey what people went through at the time.

All next month will be “Black History Month” a meaningless gesture attempting to keep these events fresh and to build “Black Self-Esteem”. Until we can see the person beneath the skin these wounds will be difficult to heal.

1 comment:

Mary said...

fuck niggers in the mouth