It was either three years prior to her birth, or when my great-grandmother (GG) was three years old, that the Wright Brothers flew for 12 seconds in a field just outside Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. My late great-granny was born at home in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, sometime between December of 1900, and November of 1903—records were a bit sketchy then. In April of that same year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld voter disenfranchisement laws for black-American[Giles v. Harris] in the state of Alabama. A reported 99 lynchings were documented in 1903, of which 84 were blacks, in the United States.
Somewhere around her tenth birthday, in 1913, the same year Rosa Parks was born, she moved to Washington, DC. My GG had three children her oldest was a daughter who was killed on May 15, 1947, in a horrific train/bus accident. The year my GG lost her daughter—my grandmother, her two younger brothers had just finished their service following World War II. The youngest serving as a mechanic’s apprentice in the Army and the oldest as a member of the United States Navy Construction Battalion better known as the Seabees. They did not see combat because former President Harry Truman did not sign Executive Order 9981 (which ended segregation in the Armed Forces) until 1948. In that same year, Truman also encouraged the implementation of stronger anti- lynchings legislation and the abolishment of poll taxes.
By the time I was born in the 1950s, schools were on their way to being desegregated, that young lady born in 1913, Rosa Parks, decided she deserved to sit after a long day on her bus ride home. She refused the edict issued in 1955 by bus driver James Blake to relinquish her seat to a white man. So was born the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott; I thank her every day on my subway ride home. A young minister named Martin Luther King led a march through the streets of my hometown of Washington, DC organized by A. Philip Randolph in 1963. Mr. Randolph was born in Florida, in 1889; between 1882 and 1965 282 lynchings took place in his home state, 257 were of blacks.
If it seems as though I have talked a lot about lynching, I have a reason. On the evening of April 4th, 1968, I walked into my home after my friends and I heard the news of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. My great-grandmother sat on the side of her bed not crying, but her face filled with sorrow, knowing that years of violence, discrimination, and hate were still in my future. She clasped my hand and told me that when she was a little girl she would talk to her grandfather who told her, that in order to escape his own lynching, he was forced to help John Wilkes-Booth flee after Booth assassinated the man who freed the slaves, Abraham Lincoln. How ironic was it, that he walked around town in a bright red cap, as the story goes, trying not to draw attention to himself because he was the subject of rumor and lynching threats.
Neither she nor I, had any idea if the stories were true but on the 24th day of the month we set aside for the celebration of Black History; I like a lot of black-Americans, live black history every day I take a breath from the air our ancestors exhaled in fear, courage, and hope.
Vote in 2020 for Change.
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