I used stories from my childhood to help my students understand Civil Rights

September 5, 2020
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I used stories from my childhood to help my students understand Civil Rights

I used stories from my childhood to help my students understand Civil Rights

“I grew up in Hayneville between Montgomery and Selma. I taught for 24 years, most of that time was fourth grade. My students are my children, my babies. Every year, I taught them about the Civil Rights Movement before our field trip to the Civil Rights Museum. It is hard to understand from books so I told them stories from my childhood.

In 1965, pastor Jonathan Daniels was shot by a deputy after he bought a Coke at Varner’s Cash Store with two black girls. They were Civil Rights activists and the pastor died saving one girl’s life. That was less than 200 yards from my home. You could look out from my porch and see that five and dime store in front of the jailhouse. I was nine years old and my parents wouldn’t let me walk by that store by myself again. I didn’t understand why there were places we couldn’t walk and eat. I had a Caucasian friend and couldn’t go into the store with her. My father had fair skin and my mother was very dark-complected, so the Blacks would call me zebra. There were racial injustices on many different levels. My father was the first black deputy in Lowndes County. One night the KKK put a cross in our yard. My dad shot dog shots, shells filled with salt and rice, to scare them away. I was five years old and my mother had us down on the floor in their bedroom in the back of the house. We were so scared. My dad later became the mayor of Hayneville.

My parents marched for freedom and signed people up to vote. The City of St. Jude was a Catholic church, hospital and school in Montgomery. My mother worked at the hospital and volunteered when it hosted the Selma to Montgomery marchers who slept at the church. They saw the positive changes but knew it happened slowly, bite by bite. My mom was a poll worker and when I turned 21, she made me work at the polls. At the time I didn’t know it was a privilege. I tell my kids they have to voice their opinions through voting. If you don’t vote, don’t tell me what is wrong with the world because you haven’t done anything to make it better.

I lost my parents in my thirties. They fought so hard to make my life better and they passed away at the point when I could make their lives better. My mother’s philosophy was she didn’t want us to go through what she endured. She wanted us to have the best education and made sure we all went to college. My father didn’t have a high school diploma, but he helped me in Algebra. He worked in construction and taught me how to draw blueprints. He always told me I could have been a great architect. They wanted our lives to be better than theirs, and I am so appreciative.

I left Lowndes County and went to St. Jude in Montgomery my eighth- grade year. I was behind at the new school because the books we had in Lowndes were old or we didn’t have books. I had to stay up late and study hard to catch up. The school in Lowndes County was all black and sometimes grades were combined because we didn’t have enough teachers. I grew up wanting to be an architect, but my uncle was a principal and said they needed teachers who love children. I started teaching at the elementary school in Hayneville because I wanted to help students get a better start with everything they needed.

Times changed and my students had friends of all colors. They didn’t know what I went through so I used role-play to help them understand what it is like to be treated differently because of the color of your skin. I keep up with my students and go to graduations and weddings. I wasn’t ready to stop teaching, but retired for health reasons. I work part-time at a day care because I could not stay home. I also craft, make jewelry, and paint. It is my therapy. I am up doing something by 4 a.m. every morning.

I tell my grandchildren that the world is always changing. Right now we are living in a time of change that will rewrite history. Take pictures of people wearing masks and the signs on the door. There will be a shift because of COVID. I believe it will be positive, we just have to wait for it. God doesn’t do anything without a reason. We have lost five family members to COVID. My niece was 43 years old. She took off work to care for her husband who had the Coronavirus, then she got it and passed away. There has to be something positive from this because those deaths can’t be in vain.

I want to see equality of every color, nationality, and gender. There is a food pantry where I work. Looking out the window at the type of cars that drive up, you wouldn’t think those people would need food. You never know what someone else is going through or what they have lost. We can be a little kinder to each other, especially now.

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