Last month a couple of friends and I attended a conference in Winchester. As we walked around Old Town in the heart of downtown, we came across a couple of confederate statues. We just read the information detailed on plaques attached and walked away. There was no discussion, just one comment. “That’s history,” one of them muttered. My friends are white and I figured they were being cautious.
A day later, we passed the same statues. Still no conversation. It wasn’t until the drive home, when we were in the car with three hours ahead of us, that the subject came up. “So Melinda, how do you feel about the confederate statues and the monuments,” the other friend asked. “I really want to know because I have my opinion as well.”
Do I dare go there, I thought to myself, because if they say the “wrong thing” this is going to be a mighty long trip back to Salem. I took my time to answer, because I wanted to convey fully the emotion that emanates from the heart of a person of color when describing feelings about anything that glorifies slavery and the degradation it still instills.
Well ladies let me tell you a little about what I’ve endured during my life. While I was not a slave, sometimes I was made to feel like one. I went to segregated schools for two years, traveling more than 50 miles a day on a cold rickety bus handed down from the white schools. The bus was so cold mom would warm a brick in the stove for my sisters and me to keep our feet warm as we traveled. The white school was just a mile and half down the road. When integration occurred, I was the only black child in a class of more than 25 kids. I was taunted by a boy I’m sure is in prison now. He sat in front of me and every day he would sing a ditty he had made up: N_ _ _ _ _ , N_ _ _ _ _, ole black N _ _ _ _ _ , you need to go back to Africa. It was a catchy tune. Actually other kids liked it so much, they would join in on the playground. I was eight years old and it took all I could muster to keep from crying. Alex didn’t learn that racist behavior on his own – he was taught it. So ladies when you ask me how I feel about the confederate monuments, you gotta realize my perspective is colored. I see those statues as glorifying a past that deserves very little glory. I’ve lived in this brown skin a long time and I know I’ve faced some things that would make YOUR skin crawl. I don’t know…it appears to me that we’ve forgotten the Golden Rule and that has created a malaise in race relations, and has put those stone-faced members of the confederacy who were in the fight to preserve slavery on the chopping block. There is no blanket rule that easily applies to the proper course to take with these symbols. You now you know how I feel.
The other friend said, “I’m glad you shared that because I agree all the way.” Her concluding statement went something like this: “One does not have to be black to grasp the fact that they were wrong.”