Children of the Dream - Growing Up Black In America

by Carmen

When Dr. Martin Luther King presented his "I Have A Dream" speech before thousands, perhaps more than a million people in Washington D.C. I was 13 years of age. I did not know who Martin Luther King Jr. was, I did not know who Medgar Evers was, nor did I know who Malcom X was. I heard their names, words from the mouths of my parents, a relative, someone on the street. These people were not a part of my life, so why would they be important to me. They were not talked about in school, not by classmates and never by teachers; but then most of my teachers were white.

It was a white teacher, when I was eight years old, that first opened my eyes to black literature. She read a poem in class entitled, "In The Morning" by Paul Laurence Dunbar. Mr. Dunbar's style of writing and choice of words intrigued me and thus began my search for more of his writing. It was, however, a black teacher who peeked my curiosity to other black writers and their struggles. I asked questions mostly of my parents about black people that lived in the South, and this is when I began to learn about racism and hatred for black people. The more I heard, the more I wanted to know. In Detroit, in the 1960's, black people, according to my young eyes and point of view, were living pretty good. Factory jobs were plentiful, which was where the majority of black people that I knew worked. In my neighborhood there weren't many black professionals. As a matter of fact, the only black professionals I was aware of were teachers, but they did not live in my neighborhood.

In Middle School I started asking questions. I asked my history and literature instructors, why history books were only about white people and what they did. I asked why black people were not mentioned. The answer was always the same; "pay attention to what is being taught in class." Some references were made to Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver, and of course that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. No details were delved into. I went to the Public Library and I read, and I continued to ask questions. I saw my mother cry when she related her experiences in the South in the 1940's. At the age of 10 I asked my father whey he always referred to "us" as Black and not Negroes. He told me that he did not like the word Negro, because white people used it in a derogatory way and referred to us as "niggers". It was at this time that I became aware of the differences in blacks and whites. I went to a mixed school in a mixed neighborhood, that was seeing white people move out in droves. I had a white classmate as a friend and one day after school I went to her house. When her mother saw me, she took her daughter into the house and told me that I was never to come over to their house again. I told my mother what had happened, and she responded by saying, "you're learning".

In 1963, my Civics class took a field trip to City Hall, and we met the Mayor of the City of Detroit. We also sat in on a court case. I was very interested in the Court Stenographer, and inquired about how to become one. I was told that "coloreds" weren't quick enough to learn this skill. I continued to ask questions, especially in school and was told that I was a trouble-maker and disruptive in class. I paid more attention to news reports and news specials. I saw black people marching in the streets, protesting, disobeying colored only signs, and utilizing services intended for whites only. I saw large dogs let loose on people, I saw fire hoses sprayed in full force on black people, I saw black people being hit with sticks and rocks thrown at them, and I saw white people spitting on black people, and always, always calling them "niggers".

I learned about Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Alabama Bus Boycott. I learned about Emmit Till and I cried when I read the story of the four little girls killed in that church bombing. I was 17 when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. In those four years and eight months since his "I Have A Dream" speech and his death, I learned much about discrimination, racism, and hatred, also noting that much of the racism came from those who professed to be Christians. I learned that Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers, and Malcom X were not popular men. I learned that slavery was a popular resource for white people, that it was a legal commodity under the United States Government, and therefore no laws were broken if blacks were kidnapped, sold, misused and killed. I learned that the Civil Rights Laws, made to protect the natural born rights of black people can be disrupted after so many years, especially when whites feel that "blacks" have obtained "status" in America. I learned that according to their way of thinking, once blacks have obtained "status" the laws are interpreted to mean reverse discrimination. I've learned that growing up black in America, as long as we don't "rock the boat", will give us fair status, but only by their standards.

By the time I was 17, I learned not to be offended when someone referred to me as "blackie", and as having nappy hair. My dark skin and curly hair to me symbolized kinship with my African heritage, my African sisters and brothers, my African ancestors, and most important a kinship with the Motherland of which no other continent in the world can equal in beauty and natural resources.

I've also learned that growing up Black in America should alert us that we do not need a black leader to help us deal with racism. I've learned that Racism is an inherent attitude and until individuals change their attitudes we can't change them.

Growing up Black in America has taught me to remember the past, learn from it and push forward. It has instilled in me a responsibility to educate young people about our heritage and our African roots, so that perhaps through the educational process, one day racism and all the ugliness it entails will become a distant memory.

Children of the Dream - Growing Up Black In America by Carmen

© Copyright 2001. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated or copied without the expressed written consent of the author.

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