Black History: The power of love

It’s Black History month. Once again, our nation celebrates the amazing contributions of African-American men and women who overcame daunting odds to better our society. Over a hundred and fifty years have passed, since Abraham Lincoln drafted the Emancipation Proclamation. According to www.history.com, “…[Lincoln] issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that as of January 1, 1863, all slaves in the rebellious states ‘shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.’” The historical website also records, “While the Emancipation Proclamation did not free a single slave, it was an important turning point in the war, transforming the fight to preserve the nation into a battle for human freedom.” Ultimately, slavery was abolished, but our nation has continued to fight the enemy of racism.

When I was a little girl, I wasn’t aware of discrimination. All I knew was that when Clemmie hugged me or my brothers and sisters, or took care of my very ill mother, she loved us. Her skin was dark brown, and we were white and didn’t have a lot of money, but somehow God made us family in the worst of times. She fed us, bandaged scraped knees, and painstakingly nursed my mother back to health. Clemmie was a compassionate worker of miracles, that’s why at six-years-old I didn’t know racism existed.

Rosa Parks is booked.

But since it was the 1960’s, while growing up I became conscious of the battle for civil rights listening to nightly news casts. There were riots, valiant lunch-counter sit-ins, courageous Rosa Parks taking a seat on the bus, heroic Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. being assassinated, and there were more riots. For the next couple decades, there were also folks who tried to overcome the racial tension that never really healed.

Fast forward to the 1990s, to a humid summer evening when I was driving by myself. I heard beautiful music coming from a small church that I passed. I felt so alone and like such a failure that particular night. I was a young single mom doing my best, but it just wasn’t good enough in lots of ways. I had been refinishing furniture earlier that afternoon, and my white t-shirt and old jeans were soiled with wood stain. I stood next to my car listening to the melodious voices of what sounded like a Heavenly soulful choir, desperately wishing I could go inside the unfamiliar fellowship.

The sign said that the Lima church was AME [African Methodist Episcopal]. Over 25 years ago, AME churches had almost exclusively black congregations. Just then, another car pulled up and a couple of older black women got out and headed towards the brick church. One grandmotherly lady stopped to ask if I was alright. I told her that I was listening to the beautiful music. Maybe she could sense that I was a troubled soul or maybe she was simply kind, but she encouraged me to come inside the church.

“But I’m such a mess,” I protested pointing to my stained shirt and jeans.

“It’s not how you go. It’s that you go,” she countered enthusiastically. So, dutifully I followed her up the steps of that church where in the years to come I would be a welcome visitor on numerous occasions.

There were two ladies who attended the church who would also become close friends, Maggie Breaston, and her sister, the late Georgia Newsome. Growing up in the south and moving to the Midwest in the mid-1950s to escape racism, these courageous women told me story after story about the subtle racism they encountered once they arrived in the north. Yet, they refused to become bitter. Miss Georgia even became known as an expert on Black History in Lima.

In the end, what I know about Black History is that people who could have hated me for the color of my white skin, showed me love when I needed it most. Unconditional love like Clemmie displayed by helping my family, love like the woman who invited me to her church, or love like Georgia Newsome and Maggie Breaston always shared, despite experiencing the sting of discrimination firsthand.

 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. understood that love was the only force capable of destroying prejudice. To quote Dr. King Jr., “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

 

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

Black History: The Sad Story of Subtle Segregation

The late Miss Georgia Newsome, (r) Black Historian with her sister, Mrs. Maggie Breaston (l) and blogger, Christina Ryan Claypool (c).

As February ends, it would be remiss not to mention that it’s Black History month. I’d like to tell you that Black History is an inspirational narrative about societal acceptance and positive change, but often it’s not. Sadly, it’s more of a one step forward and two steps back kind of progression. Although sometimes it’s been the other way around. “The ASALH [Association for the Study of African American Life and History has dedicated] … the 2013 Annual Black History Theme to celebrating the anniversary of two important African American turning points – the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation and the 1963 March on Washington,” reported the Davenport University Library Services.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In explanation, on August 28, 1963, approximately a quarter of a million people gathered in Washington D. C. There are historical photos of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. waving to the huge crowd. That summer day, the Lincoln Memorial audience heard the Civil Rights leader share his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech. Dr. King spoke passionately about his vision of an America where one day in the future, his children would “… not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

I thought about the progression of racial equality, while celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day this past January at the Mount Zion Holy Union Church of God in Sidney, an event organized by Rev. Phil Chilcote. Keynote speaker, 73-year-old Dr. Ervin Smith of Columbus, an emeritus professor of Christian Ethics at Methesco, a Methodist Seminary, explained what segregation in Georgia looked like in his youth. Dr. Smith shared that he couldn’t go into the main library, restaurants, get the same medical treatment, or drink out of the same drinking fountains as whites, solely because of being black. Eventually, the scholar authored his own books including: “The Ethics of Martin Luther King Jr.,” and “Black Theology: Toward an Inclusive Church,” among others. Segregation affected Smith’s choice of a college as well. “I couldn’t go to the University of Georgia…couldn’t go to Georgia Tech. Why? Because of the color of my skin,” he said. When the educator who obtained his Ph.D. from Northwestern University in Illinois moved to Delaware, Ohio, in 1971, he thought he had escaped segregation. Yet he met a different kind of segregation in the north.

Bishop Ernest Wilson, pastor at Mount Zion, says that he could identify with Dr. Smith’s story. After all, he was “reared in Alabama.” He said, “I’ve been here [in Sidney] 52 years, but I remember where I came from.” For Bishop Wilson many of those memories are painful. He said, “I would talk to my mom…I can’t go around here saying, ‘Yes, Sir’ and they calling me a boy.” The 72 year old minister told of other serious injustices when he was teenager. Like seeing a friend stabbed for no reason, whowalked to the doctor’s offices with his intestines in his hands, only because he was black.” Bishop Wilson defines, “Equality, [as] the state or quality of being equal…we just wanted to be treated fairly,” he said. “One of the great deceptions I had 52 years ago when I came to Shelby County… [I] was really surprised some things going on here [concerning racism]. Thought I was leaving those things behind,” said the pastor. During the sixties, he found out that Blacks could only live in certain neighborhoods, and that there were still local businesses where he couldn’t get service.

I listened as both older African American men portrayed growing up in the segregated south. Escaping to the Midwest, believing they would be accepted for who they were. Although often they were met with a subtle segregation, that was a difficult enemy to combat. In past interviews with Lima’s Black History expert, the now deceased Miss Georgia Newsome, she and her sister, Mrs. Maggie Breaston, also spoke of the subtle segregation they experienced many decades ago moving here from the south. After all, it happened most everywhere.

Maybe some folks would say, it’s over and we should just forget it. Yet to paraphrase the wise words of late Holocaust survivor, Elisabeth Sondheimer of Lima, Ohio, “If we bury the past, we are likely to repeat it.” Instead, “We’ve got to do better,” urged Bishop Wilson. “Fifty years after Dr. King made the speech I’m finding out…We’ve got to do better.”  But how can we?  Dr. Ervin Smith believes there is a remedy to the racism that seeks to destroy communities. The retired educator said, [We have] “Got to work with our children, work with each other…until we all see each other as children of God.”

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com. This column originally appeared in the Sidney Daily News on Feb. 22, 2013.