That above referenced line represents a period in my life when I was homeless and destitute. Apart from the gift of writing, which God has so blessed me, I had no other way of sustaining myself - which I did by selling my poetry on the streets. The experience of this moment often left me reminiscing about the past when I was happily married and enjoying watching my children grow. Moreover and perhaps to a larger extent, I often reminisced about my childhood circa 1963-69 and growing up in the sleepy town of Franklinton, NC - population approximately 1500-1800 people.
Back then schools, despite the 1954 Brown v Board decision, along with water fountains, diners, churches, funeral homes, the parks and the pools remained segregated. Speaking of ‘the pool’, there was only the one or so blacks either suffered the heat or did whatever. Fortunately for us, as time passed, my friend Reggie’s, (Publisher, Maryland Daily Examiner), father would take my siblings and me along with his family to the pool in Wake Forest, thanks Rev. Kearney. Aside from that I, and my three brothers’ and two sisters’ lives consisted mostly of school, church, and in a manner of speaking, working the land. Meaning that we helped raise the chickens, shuck the corn, snap the beans, preserve the fruits, slaughter hogs, and gather firewood for heat and for cooking. We also primed tobacco and picked cotton although to this day my brother Solomon swears I never did (pick cotton). However, my recollections of those sweltering hot days differ immensely.
Yeah, when I look back on those days I realize that for all the changes occupying the space between 1963 and 2014, I question how much of that change was or is actual progress. You see, back in 1963 blacks knew who the enemy was. There was no guesswork involved. No one needed to furrow his or her brow in an attempt to figure out who was who. We (blacks) knew who hated us. We knew what streets and neighborhoods to avoid. We knew automatically to go to the rear of the movie theater or to go to the side window of Robin’s grill - God help us if we attempted to go inside. Furthermore, it would not have been surprising to hear politicians such as Senator Jesse Helms R-NC or Alabama’s republican governor George Wallace railing against desegregation or to even refer to blacks as niggers. Not that they ever did so publicly, but had they, it would not have come as a surprise.
Blacks in those days knew not to trust the police although in all fairness that has not changed. Hell, if anything has changed it’s that we understand now that law enforcement’s attitude toward blacks was not limited to just the Jim Crow south. Back then existed as I am sure exist now, one or two genuinely sincere police officers, you know the ones who really believe in protecting and serving the whole community and not just their own. For us it was Police Chief Leo Edwards. Chief Edwards enjoyed a somewhat informal relationship, as informal relationships went in those days with the woman who raised us, Martha Ella Perry or as he would say ‘Martha’. To us and all the other neighborhood children she was simply “Ms. Marthella.” Everyone loved her, and I have no doubt that her sterling reputation and her Godly character fed us many a night. But alas change came along in the guise of progress and well, things changed. But did they or have they changed?
Despite their long-winded resistance, white folks in Franklinton finally came to grips with reality and integrated schools in 1970. Gone were the days for blacks in the town of being taught by teachers who truly had their best interest at heart whom we also called neighbors. Gone also was the sense of self that for some blacks meant much more than drinking from the same water fountain or attending the same schools as whites. Perhaps for some, change represented progress, but for others, change meant just that - CHANGE.
Can we talk? You see, for some breaking down barriers to socialize with the enemy made no sense. There were those who recognized that separate and unequal mattered only if you wanted to be like somebody else.
Many adults in the black community believed the negative portion of the picture should have been the focus of the country’s attention. Yet instead, passion and not reason persuaded and prevailed. If we were to compare achievements whether educational or professionally (sports notwithstanding) among blacks in the sixties versus present day America we would find that many of the problems cited in the 1965 report by then assistant secretary in the Department of Labor the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan remain and in many cases have worsened. His report, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” identified the breakdown of the nuclear family as the primary reason for the dysfunction within the black community. Citing high unemployment, poverty, crime, out-of-wedlock births in addition to a myriad of social calamities, which he called a “tangle of pathologies,” Moynihan argued that without government intervention black families would forever inhabit a cycle of poor education, limited job prospects and dysfunctional long-term poverty.
In June 2013, the Urban Institute released a report, which, re-visited the ‘Moynihan Report’ and pointed out what may have been some of the negative behind the passion. For example, the Moynihan Report posited that the rise of female-headed black households decreased the authority of the black man in the eyes of their families, rendering them helpless and unable to fulfill their roles as responsible fathers and providers, in part because of limited job opportunities. Anyone familiar with tradition within the black family would be hard pressed to argue against the importance of the black man within the family unit particularly concerning discipline in matters of behavior, (socially and morally) as well as educational aspirations.
According to Gregory Acs, Director of the Urban Institute’s Income and Benefits Policy and one of the authors of the Urban Institute report, “African-Americans have made substantial progress in high school graduation rates, college enrollment, income and home ownership rates since the 1960s, however, vast disparities still remain in comparison to whites on a multitude of social measures.”
Facts established by the Urban Institute Report:
- Early 1960s, approximately 20 percent of black children were born out of wedlock
- In 2009, that number increased to 75 percent of black births
- Marriage rates suffered the same declining path. In 1960, more than half of all black women were married
- In 2010, those numbers decreased to 25 percent
Other negatives of the 1960s left unresolved by integration include:
- As of 2014, nearly half of all poor black children reside in neighborhoods with concentrated poverty
- 76.6 percent of black children attended majority black schools in the 60s.
- As of 2010, 74.1 percent of black children attended mostly nonwhite schools
- Black unemployment during the 60s was about 2 to 2.5 times that of whites
- As of 2012, the black unemployment rate was 14.0 percent, 2.1 times the white unemployment rate (6.6 percent) and higher than the average national unemployment rate of 13.1 percent during the Great Depression, from 1929 to 1939
So then, given these facts we must ask ourselves what really has changed. Sure, we have a black president but we also have politicians willing to say things publicly that even the most fervent racist politician in 60s would not say in public. Blacks are having a harder time deciphering the enemy in present-day America partly because we have become our own worst enemy, the result of over-assimilation. The black family has changed. So much so that following in your father’s footsteps means going to jail. Educational achievements relating to magnitude of degree or number of degrees obtained individually may have increased but collectively as a people, those numbers are shameful.
When I was six, I accepted things as they were. I didn’t care what water fountain I drank from so long as the water quenched my thirst. I didn’t care from what window my ice cream cone was served so long as it was ice cream. I didn’t care that I went to an all black school so long as I learned something. I didn’t care if my mother felt liberated like white women or whether my father felt equal to a white man so long as they were at home and there for me. PROGRESS indicates moving forward in a positive manner and that situations have CHANGED. I dare say the evidence points to anything positive as it relates to what blacks clamored for in the 60s. Congratulations folks you got what you wanted. Are you happy now?
~~ Written by Jay Arrington
Maryland Daily Examiner