Separate, but never equal
How brave and honest of the Monitor to uncover the deeper reasons for American violence and mistaken thinking in the June 5 cover story, “Exposing the roots of violence.” I spent my early childhood in Wilmington, Delaware, where my family housed and fed boarders working in the factories. My education at the time was all about pilgrims and Puritans, European and American history, and the war.
When I was 11, we moved to Middletown, Kentucky, to be with family. It was 1948, and the important history and people around me were very different there from what I had been taught in Delaware. There, those “roots” from your article were stark and frightened me.
I had difficulty with life on the Mason-Dixon Line. Life there was so wrong in my eyes, and my heart cried out. Black people were denied seats on the bus. They could be arrested if they entered a restaurant, restroom, or food or clothing market. They were denied the use of a drinking fountain, and there were no Black people on the streets. They worked everywhere but had no freedom to use the facilities open to me.
The biggest shock was that my own relatives were stuck in prejudicial lies, which came from past slavery, government decisions and laws, and even religious instruction. My grandparents ran several small businesses. Kind and capable Black people worked for them, but no Black people shopped at our stores. Nor were any Black children in my school. Southern society was made up of whole communities whose lives were certainly separate but never equal.
I waited and prayed for a better world. The Supreme Court gave us Brown v. Board of Education, and schools tried to find equality in busing. Two years later, my brother in junior high school had Black friends. During my first year at the University of Kentucky, there were 27 Black students enrolled as freshmen. I had some reasons to feel a little better, but as I read the facts in your cover story, it brought back memories. Changes were good, but anger and violence often followed. My sister-in-law marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Louisville, Kentucky. She was put in jail and called her father not knowing how to gain her release.
I remember the governor of Alabama standing on the school steps, denying a Black girl her right to enter. Later, he was attacked and began to use a wheelchair. You printed statistics on lynchings from 1877 to 1950. My history professor in 1954 sadly told us they still hanged a Black man each Saturday in his small town in Georgia. My mother and I cried when students from the North came south to help but were murdered. Driving through the South amid the beautiful fields, we encountered crowd after crowd of Black prisoners working on roads.
I know we have come a long way since then. As we recognize the ignorance of slavery, prejudice, and violence, how grateful I am for my Monitor. I am grateful for learning patience and know the Monitor will keep me reading about historic mistakes and still respecting leaders. We must have the whole truth and reason morally and justly. Through the Monitor, I often learn to think about people who made mistakes and then changed using better ideas and became “people making a difference.”
Vicki Kay Turpen
Albuquerque, New Mexico