“People are People”: How Political and Social Change Worked Together to Create a Naive Child of the 90’s

May 2, 2011 in 1960s-1970s, Social history

Delores Johnson Brown, along with sixteen others, was one of the first to enter Norview High School in 1959 after the school system had been shut down due to “Massive Resistance”.  It has been said that “[h]er courage…signaled the end of ‘Massive Resistance’ in Virginia and [was] another giant step toward dismantling the separate and unequal educational apartheid that existed in Virginia and throughout the South” (i)  While that is certainly true, perhaps another look, one not centered so heavily on the Civil Rights Movement itself, should be afforded.  (ii)

As a child of the 90’s, I grew up completely naïve to the implications race had once held.  Unfortunately, the elder members of my family were not so lucky.  Hearing their stories sheds light on the “normal” white view of the subject, something long overlooked as a product of political change instead of an important part of how change was accomplished.

In the 1920’s my father’s parents moved to Washington D.C. from rural Kentucky.  My grandfather was, at the time, a racist, but he, as my father is quick to point out, “mellowed out with age” and had “several” African-American friends before he died.  (iii)  Through his family (iv), my grandfather grew to accept members of other races as “friends”, something that, as stubborn as my grandfather was, could not have been accomplished otherwise.

Political change did not greatly affect my mother’s family as it came to racial relations either.  My grandmother was raised “that everyone was the same”, but she knows her “parents were ahead of their time”.  She was fortunate to avoid interaction with the “Massive Resistance” movement since her schools (in Norfolk, VA) were never shut down.  The high school she attended did not integrate until the year after she graduated.  However, her daughter, years later, who lived across the street from her elementary school (also in Norfolk, VA), was bussed to “an all colored school…because the school was not previously mixed like it was supposed to be”.  Political reform perhaps, but without having been “raised that everyone was created equal and the only thing different was the color of our skin” my mother would not have done so well in an all colored school or have been able to make friends there.

The picture, though different, was very-much the same for my stepmother in southern Maryland.  Her experience is similar to that of others, but is still worth noting.  She started school in the early 60’s, a school that was all white until her third-grade year.  Even then, the school only had “one lonely little girl” named Darnella who my stepmother was “fascinated by”.  Despite her parents being on the fence about segregation, she “would always try to share something with [Darnella]” to make the girl everyone teased because she wasn’t “a vanilla” feel better.  By the time she was in high school, “mixed groups, couples and friends” were becoming more acceptable and even expected—a social change mixed with the ever-noted political change.

The political change no doubt worked hand-in-hand with the social change.  Without one the other cannot exist, but without both it would be impossible for me, as a little girl in the 90’s, to have been as oblivious to how much race had meant before.

***** Notes *****

(i)  Winston, Bonnie V. “Massive Resistance.” Crisis 116.3 (2009): 28-34. Academic Search Premier. Web. 18 April 2011.

(ii) This is not to say that the Civil Rights Movement was not critical to the improvement of conditions for African Americans.

(iii)  My grandmother, on the other hand, also from rural Kentucky, was “never heard [to] say anything against blacks”.  In fact, despite being a child of the segregated south, she still gets upset when anyone tries to say anything negative based upon race.

(iv)  Both his wife and his children.  My father (and I’m sure my grandfather’s other six children) had African American friends.  He even had someone he considered a good friend who dated “a black girl”, someone he “got along with” and would also consider a friend.  My father also cites that though there were “racial conflicts” there was “nothing bad…and if another school came to start trouble the white and black would stand together to stop any thing”.  Yet another product of social change.

(v)  Other than that which was cited from “Massive Resistance”, all information is derived (and some quoted) from personal interviews with my mother, father, stepmother, and both of my grandmothers.

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