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.
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.