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Archive for the ‘MLK Day’ Category

Paying Homage to Local Black Heroes

**This was originally published on Thursday, February 24, 2011, in my newspaper column, “The Old Paths,” in The Stokes News. Due to a website change a few years ago, the publishing company broke all links to our old articles which were archived online. This was a tragic mistake and resulted in the loss of thousands of newspaper articles. Little by little, I am putting my old columns on this blog so that they can be preserved. Each column may be updated to reflect present times when transferred to this blog.**

John L. Hairston--young

Mr. John L. Hairston, local black hero

Recently I read a quote by the actor Morgan Freeman that made me stop and think. He stated: “I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.” In theory, I agree with his statement. In reality, I do not.

In an ideal world, there would be no Black History Month. I, like Freeman, aspire to that type of world. However, we live in an imperfect world which makes Black History Month necessary if we are to learn of the historical accomplishments of a prominent minority in this country.

Another famous quotation by a distinguished black American is also indicative of the ideal world I dream of. Carter G. Woodson, an African-American scholar who founded the Journal of Negro History and is called “The Father of Black History,” said: “We should emphasize not Negro History, but the Negro in history. What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate and religious prejudice.”

A world free from prejudice and racism? THAT’S where I want to live. Unfortunately, that address is still unknown. And thus, we must have a Black History Month.

What a great time this is to remind ourselves that American history isn’t just one hue. How wonderful it is to learn of great accomplishments by men and women of color—deeds and names that often are not in the textbooks. Black History Month has helped me to decorate my Wall of Heroes in multi-colors.

And sometimes those heroes are right here in our own backyard.

George Washington Carver—love him. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—wow. Harriet Tubman—crazy about her. John L. Hairston—heart him. Rev. Greg Hairston—I tip my hat.

Oh. What? You don’t remember reading about the last two in your History 101 class? Well, that’s probably because they are homegrown heroes for us here in Walnut Cove, NC. They are featured in a book that gained national acclaim, The Hairstons, by Henry Wiencek, who, by the way, came from Boston to do a program at the Walnut Cove Colored School back on Sunday, March 13, 2011.

Henry Wiencek

Henry Wiencek, author of The Hairstons

If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it. It examines the lineage of the Hairstons—now a huge clan all across the U.S. whose point of origin as a dynastic family is Stokes County, NC. The story is spellbinding; the book, well-written; and the information, priceless. Wiencek has no ties to the story—he is not black and he is not from the South. He just found the story a riveting one that needed telling.

The Hairstons book

A phenomenal book about the Hairston clan

If you don’t have time to read the entire book, I suggest reading at least Chapter 13—”The Liberation of Walnut Cove.” I have lived in and around Walnut Cove all of my life but was stunned that I had no knowledge of what happened in 1968, per Wiencek’s account.

Did you know there was a protest march in Walnut Cove in the midst of the ’60’s desegregation troubles? Did you realize there was a scaled-down version of a sit-in (stand-in) at Vernon’s Grill (now The Milk Bar) on Main Street, Walnut Cove? Before MLK Day 2011, I began reading Chapter 13 aloud to my children because I felt they needed to know what struggles were faced right here in their hometown. I had planned to read only a small segment of it, but they were so engrossed that they begged me to read the entire chapter. I gladly obliged.

When reluctant Stokes County was ordered to hop onto the forward train of desegregation, the decision was made to close the all-black London High School. The black community rose up to protest, turning out en masse at a public meeting with the school board. There their beloved and longtime London High principal, John L. Hairston, delivered a stirring speech. He urged the school board not to close the school but to integrate it.

His impassioned pleas, quite out of character for this soft-spoken man, seemed to have fallen on deaf ears.

Rather than concede defeat, the student council of London High chose to protest the decision. Greg Hairston, a senior at the school, and other student government leaders such as John L.’s daughter Mona, led a march down Main Street, Walnut Cove, amidst heckling and jeers from white bystanders.

As the group approached Vernon’s Grill, student leader Vincent Withers declared that he was thirsty and was going into the still-segregated restaurant to get a soda. Despite efforts to stop him, Withers entered after local deputies informed the owner that there was nothing legally they could do to prevent a black man from entering the front of the establishment rather than going to the back door per longstanding tradition. Withers entered, ordered and drank a soda before quietly exiting.

Walnut Cove changed forever that day.

Although segregation had been illegal since 1964, the movie theater, laundromat and town restaurant had never been integrated. But after that warm March day in 1968, desegregation slowly became the mode in the Cove. Soon, blacks didn’t have to sit in the balcony to watch movies anymore, and they could wash clothes at the laundromat.

I am privileged to have known two of these modern-day heroes. John L. Hairston, now deceased, was my principal for three years at London and visited my home a few times when my mother, a reading teacher at the school, had the faculty over for get-togethers. He and his precious wife, Ruth (my fifth-grade teacher), also stopped by with a gift when my baby brother was born. He was a man of such class and character that I get misty-eyed thinking of him. I can see his gentle eyes now and hear his kind, well-modulated voice.
(Here is a link to a news story about Mr. John L. Hairston’s legacy:

https://www.wxii12.com/article/local-pioneer-to-be-honored-for-role-in-school-integration-this-weekend/22700105 )

John L Hairston--old

Mr. John L. Hairston in later years

Greg Hairston is now the pastor of Rising Star Baptist Church in the London community of Walnut Cove. I have been privileged to be in prayer meetings and church services with him. I never fail to be moved each year when I see him walk yet again down Main Street, Walnut Cove, during the MLK March.

Greg Hairston

Rev. Greg Hairston today

These are those who may never be written up in a history text for school children, but they have a place on the unwritten honor roll of black heroes. There are others who won’t even get a mention in a book like Wiencek’s—the Frank Daltons who coached integrated baseball teams when that wasn’t the popular way in Walnut Cove, the Malcolm Dixons who ran basketball camps to offer local children of all races opportunities to be active in worthwhile activities and escape the vicious cycle of drug abuse and poverty in this area, the David Hairstons who work tirelessly to make sure predominantly black communities are included in Walnut Cove and that the children have playgrounds and resources.

Today I pay homage to these unsung heroes who have labored to escape the old paths of racial discrimination and forge new highways for the brotherhood of mankind. And I will continue to agree with the immortal words of Dr. Martin Luther 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.”

David Hairston 2.jpg

David Hairston standing in the Walnut Tree neighborhood of Walnut Cove which he helped become annexed in the town through a long, hard fight

malcolm dixon

Malcolm Dixon working a table for Project Uth 360 Degrees, a nonprofit he established in Walnut Cove for local youth

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Me (the blogger) with Frank Dalton who helped integrate Stokes County sports teams and who turned 91 this month (Aug. 2018)

Here is a link to a site which has a video about Mr. John L. Hairston and events to honor his legacy: https://theliliesproject.org/events/2018/4/13/celebrating-courage-50th-anniversary-of-march-from-london-to-vernons-grill

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The Old Paths: One Day When the Glory Comes

**This was originally published on Thursday, January 22, 2015, in my newspaper column, “The Old Paths,” in The Stokes News. Due to a website change a few years ago, the publishing company broke all links to our old articles which were archived online. This was a tragic mistake and resulted in the loss of thousands of newspaper articles. Little by little, I am putting my old columns on this blog so that they can be preserved. Each column may be updated to reflect present times when transferred to this blog.**

selma_posterAlthough my busy schedule doesn’t often allow moviegoing, I am a sucker for a cheap matinee. On rare occasions, I’ll choose to see the same movie again, but it has to be a doozy. I set a personal record with Facing the Giants and Pride and Prejudice—six times apiece in the theater. But normally I wait for the DVD.

Not so with Selma.

I started my Selma sequence with the hubster in early January 2015, then took four of my five kids to see it on the Friday before MLK Day to prepare them for that, and finally went with the fifth kid for the thrill of seeing it on MLK Day in a full theater. When my teary-eyed teenage son left the theater, he said, “Mama, everyone in America needs to watch that movie.”

I agree. If you could somehow edit out LBJ’s frequent cursing, you could even make it required watching for school children each January.

Selma is a movie that will make you think about preconceived notions—something we all need to do. So often we are locked into our iron stereotypes that first began to enchain us in our younger, more formative years. But typically, stereotypes are based on falsehoods whose fabric is actually more like gossamer-thin spiderwebs than the iron chains we perceive. They look scary, they are uncomfortable to deal with, but in the light of truth, they can easily be brushed aside. Selma indeed brushes aside some of those stereotypes.

The ultimate white racist would say “all black people are alike” and vice-versa for the black racist. It’s simply not true. Are we so simpleminded that we can’t see how ridiculous such thinking is? Where there was the young black man wanting to use violence against the militant whites in Selma, there was the somewhat older black man saying violence would accomplish nothing. Where there was the one black student leader practically idolizing Dr. King, there was another such black student criticizing the esteemed leader. All black people are alike? I think not.

Where there were vicious white people in the movie who used weapons to brutally attack the black protesters, there were other white people who watched the TV coverage of the violence and wept at the injustice. Where there were ignorant white people who taunted the nonviolent black marchers with heckling, middle fingers and overuse of that detestable “n” word, there were many other enlightened white people who thronged to Selma to march with Dr. King. All white people are alike? I think not.

People are people—some good, some bad and a whole lot in-between. Color of skin is meaningless in the reckoning of human hearts.selma-movie

As a white woman, I’ve often heard Dr. King degraded by white people who point to his alleged indiscretions. In the movie, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover called Dr. King a “moral degenerate.” And no, the Civil Rights leader is not painted as a saint in Selma; his wife Coretta calls him out on the issue of other women, and he does not deny it.

So does this mean we don’t listen to a thing he says because he was a flawed human being in some ways? Oh, and you’re not? And I’m not? He who is without sin stand up and lead the way for us. Oh, wait—that wouldn’t work, would it? We would be without leadership. We certainly exalt the Founding Fathers despite some of their indiscretions. We don’t throw out the Declaration of Independence because its primary author, Thomas Jefferson, may or may not have fathered children by a slave woman.

I feel a disturbance in the Force, as Obi-Wan Kenobi said in Star Wars. The Ferguson events from a few years ago and similar ones since then seem to be fueling the fire for racial issues to once again take the forefront 50 years after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. If you are one of the ostriches with your head in the sand who keeps saying, “Oh, there’s no racial injustice anymore. That’s past. Things are all better”—I would ask you respectfully to come back to reality.selma_poster-2

One thing we can do is to open up lines of communication and dispel ignorance through education and hands-on interaction. Dr. King once said: “Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated.”

I read a news story of a black man who encountered the Ku Klux Klan. Rather than direct hatred toward them, he decided that if the white people in the KKK could just get to know him, they would like him and thus change their worldview. He went out of his way to befriend some of the members, and it worked. Some of them eventually left the KKK after getting to know the black man. They admitted to the news reporter that their generations-old ignorance of black people had bred distrust in them and that the distrust had led to hatred.

Tools like the movie Selma, Black History Month each February, community-wide events like the STOKES STOKED Youth Rally I organize in my hometown of Walnut Cove, N.C., every August (where it isn’t just the few token black people at a white-themed church service or a few token white people at a black-themed service but rather a true mixture of different worship styles)—these are opportunities to open up meaningful dialogue and dispel ignorant stereotypes.racists-blood-the-same

It’s easy when you’re in the majority to purposely ignore and downplay the cries of the minority. From that vantage point, it’s convenient to point to the laws for equality that look good on the books. But when you’re a minority—whether black, Hispanic or perhaps a female in a male-dominated profession—it’s easy to see that there many legal loopholes that allow discrimination to still seep through.

Despite the fact that history has always been thus—even Jesus’ people, the Jews, have long been an oppressed minority—we cannot let up in this war for equality, understanding and consequently, LOVE. May those who fight for such justice become the true majority—a moral majority who believe that the war CAN be won.

As the theme song from Selma says:

“Now we right the wrongs in history

No one can win the war individually

It takes the wisdom of the elders and young people’s energy. . .

When the war is won, when it’s all said and done

We’ll cry glory, oh glory!”

when-the-glory-comes

 

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