Friday, December 30, 2016

Greensboro and Stagville

I've been terrible about blogging the past couple of weeks. Instead I've been kept seriously busy reading all the stories, playing all the games, watching all the movies, baking all the cookies, and doing all the things. That has left very little time for writing, but I feel like I need to "put myself back in the narrative," if you will because telling my life story gives me a whole lot of joy for some reason.

I'm reading A Little Princess right now, which I frankly can't remember if I've read before or not (though I know I've definitely seen the Shirley Temple version of the screenplay (which I should probably put on the to-watch list for the girls)) but which has been a charming read. Sara is such a wise character (and nobody can pout as well as Shirley Temple can) and I just love so much of what she says. Today this quote stuck out to me (and reminded me to take some time to write some of my story down):
"Everything's a story. You are a story—I am a story. ..." (p. 149)
Today we headed to Greensboro to visit the International Civil Rights Center and Museum—and by "we" I should probably mention that my sister Josie is out visiting with us for the week so she's here, too! It was a bit of a surprise for the kids so I didn't say anything on the blog and even after she arrived and the kids knew she was here I still found myself talking around the fact that she was visiting because I was just so used to it by then.

Anyway, we'd taken her to the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh on Monday and upstairs was an exhibit of photographs by Spider Martin called Selma to Montgomery: A March for the Right to Vote. There was a sign warning that some of the pictures might be too graphic for children, but we took our children in anyway. Most of the pictures weren't too graphic and I was wondering why they had that sign up at all...but then we found photographs taken after the teargas had cleared, photographs of bloodied bodies strewn all over the road. Sickening.

"Have you watched Selma?" I asked Josie.

She had not.

Later on in the museum we saw a picture of the Woolworth lunch counter sit in and we were like, "That's here?!"

We had no idea. Well, maybe a little idea. Like, we knew about The Greensboro Sit-Ins, but we didn't quite know that it was our Greensboro...

So we quickly made a plan to visit Greensboro and after putting the kids to bed and running to the grocery store with Zoë (where she adopted a black baby doll (we bought it for her because (a) we were happy she picked out a black doll (b) she screamed bloody murder when we tried to put it away and (c) Christmas clearance = half off and (d) we didn't really spend anything on her this Christmas anyway) we sat down last night to watch Selma with Josie... Not that it has much to do with what happened in Greensboro (because it is rather specifically about the march from Selma to Montgomery), but I guess at the same time it has everything to do with Greensboro because (to loosely quote Hamilton (don't hate me—we listened to the soundtrack while we were in the van so it's like I can't even help myself)) they weren't simply moments—they were part of a movement.

We also pulled up the scene specifically about the Woolworth Counter Sit-in from The Butler. It shows a reenactment of SNCC ("snick") training, which was interesting—because how they managed to sit there coolly through all that persecution I will never know. The Butler was much more dramatic (and the acting much higher calibre) than the museum's production (which I guess is understandable) I was sure glad we watched it before we went! We might have to show it to the kids as well since we watched that after they went to bed.

From The Butler, I gather that SNCC training was pretty intense. And they were strict about it, too. We've all heard of Rosa Parks, but what about Claudette Colvin? She actually refused to give up her seat prior to Rosa Parks—but as an unwed mother who hadn't gone through SNCC training (and kinda-sorta-mebbe lost her cool during the whole kerfuffle) she wasn't as good of a candidate to be a symbol of the movement as calm, cool, well-behaved Rosa Parks.

And just while I'm throwing out names of the civil right's movement that I was unaware of: Viola Desmond. She's a Canadian woman who is famous for spurring change in Nova Scotia. I was completely unaware that the last school in Canada to be desegregated was only desegregated in 1983!! But if you think that's bad, read this and then sigh heavily.

Andrew was like, "There are enough black people in Canada to have segregated schools?"

He was thinking about Alberta and...there's really not a lot of black people there. 

"Yeah," I said. "There was this little thing called The Underground Railroad...which led north to...freedom...and... "

"Right," he said sheepishly.

So, only 2% of our* (meaning Canada's) population is black, while about 12% of our* (meaning the United States') population is black. But still, I guess that was enough to provoke "otherness." It really doesn't take much to make people want to elevate themselves above others...often by putting others down.

Ahem. Anyway, with that little tangent aside, the point is that the Civil Rights Movement wanted to put up a unified front, so they wanted to put as many people through SNCC training as possible.

I read this in A Little Princess today and I thought it was fitting:
"When people are insulting you, there is nothing so good for them as not to say a word—just to look at them and think. ... When you will not fly into a passion people know you are stronger than they are, because you are strong enough to hold in you rage, and they are not... There's nothing so strong as rage, except what makes you hold it in—that's stronger." (p. 160)
It made me think about non-violent protest. It also made me think about parenting.

Sometimes I am not very strong and "fly into a passion" as a parent. And I know I shouldn't. But—oh, boy!—these kids really know how to press my buttons! Learning to keep my temper is certainly something I'm still working on.

Now I'm trying to imagine sitting calmly at a counter while people are yelling at me and squirting ketchup on me and spitting in my face—which honestly doesn't seem too much different than sitting beside Zoë at the dinner table (I jest) except that she yells and squirts and spits out of love and the oppressors at the lunch counter had the polar-opposite motivation—and I'm really not sure that I would be able to do it!

When the college kids all went home for the summer they even had high school students take over their sitting-in shifts. KIDS! Sitting calmly while being cruelly harassed by adults!

I'm in awe of their strength and patience. I honestly am.

Hands-down the most chilling section of the museum was the Hall of Shame. They suggested that the children skip this part but we graphic can it be? I mean, we just took them through the graphic display at the NC Museum of History and it wasn't that bad.

The Hall of Shame was that bad.

One little boy had to be ushered through, crying. Our little boy was similarly affected but was satisfied to be held while hiding his face in Andrew's shoulder. Our girls were aghast—as we all were, honestly.

It was filled with pictures of monstrosities carried out against African Americans by white people. Lynchings and barbecues of black people that were ticketed events. White people cheering in the background, happy to be watching someone be brutally murdered. Burning crosses. Injuries from bombings and beatings and so forth. The worst was a picture of Emmett Till. That poor boy was completely unrecognizable. I just can't even...

Over dinner (Cookout—yum) we talked about what we learned at the museum today.

Rachel mentioned something about Rosa Parks not being the first to breech the segregated seating on a bus. Miriam said she didn't know that white people had been a part of the Civil Right's Movement and was pleased to see that there were people of privilege sticking up for the persecuted. That's another thing that I was thinking about while reading A Little Princess, as well. When Sara (rich, privileged child) befriends Becky (an uneducated servant girl) she shuns the idea that they shouldn't be friends because they are of different classes.
"Why," she said, "we are just the same—I am only a little girl like you. It's just an accident that I am not you, and you are not me!" (p. 64)
That is how I feel about so much in this world. Luck has everything to do with your station in life—not that hard work won't better your position, simply that luck has a lot to do with where you start on the ladder and how far you're able to climb. I mean, (going back to A Little Princess) are we seriously going to argue that Becky didn't work as hard at life as Lavinia did and that's why she was a servant girl while Lavinia was a spoiled brat? Are we seriously going to argue that black children in a crude one-room schoolhouse with a jumbled mess of textbooks will earn the same "rewards" for working hard as their white counterparts in the segregated schools of yesteryear? Or that black children somehow didn't work as hard as their white counterparts and that's why they couldn't get ahead? Or...

Any other number of arguments could be made here. The answer is the same. Sheer. Dumb. Luck.

Anyway, when we asked Benjamin what he learned about at the museum he bowed his head morosely and said, "Sadness."

And it was truly sad. But it was also hopeful.

Walking through the restaurant section was pretty awesome. It's the original counter—hasn't even been moved from the spot it was back in 1960. They had the A&T four come in to show what seats they sat in on that first day. Apparently they couldn't remember what seats exactly, but it was about in the corner (they couldn't sit all together at the counter and had to split into pairs). Their actions spread like wildfire throughout the state and then the nation. Such a simple act of bravery, yet look what it did!

Overall we really enjoyed the museum and our tour, but we weren't the biggest fans on the flow of the tour. The group was too big to really get around any particular thing the guide was talking about and we were always moving on before we'd had a chance to filter through to see what he'd just spoken about but by then he was already off speaking about something else. I understand the need for a guide downstairs (where there isn't good signage—like in the Hall of Shame) and, really, what the guide was saying was interesting...but we would have enjoyed some free reign in the upstairs section that had plenty of signs.

At one point there's an interactive screen-thing that is projected onto a table and the guide was like, "Each one of these dots represents a sit-in in North Carolina and you can select any one of them and it will bring up news articles associated with the sit-in. Quite fascinating!"

So then Andrew tried to press one of the dots and the guide barked, "No touching!"

But then why have an interactive format like that? It seems rather useless... And it wasn't like he was touching any fancy equipment. He was touching...a bare table. So...yeah.

And there's a no photography rule that was fairly strictly enforced (though I did see a girl take a picture once) so I feel like they should improve their lobby—put some replica lunch counter seating as a photo-op even (people do so like to take pictures). I suppose then they might just have riffraff filtering through the seat and not paying for tickets but...honestly the whole lobby/ticketing area was a bit of an awkward fiasco anyway.

The lobby was barren and you had to go into the gift store to buy tickets, but when we arrived half our company had to use the restrooms ASAP so off they went. And the guy in the gift store started chasing them down (because the hallways that leads to the restroom also leads to part of the exhibit) and I was like, "They're just having a potty emergency. I promise they're coming back to buy tickets."

Seriously. Just have people buy tickets at the door (or have the gift store be at the entrance?) and then have the lobby beyond that. And have it be less of an echoey chamber of nothingness and more thematic.

I also would have preferred to go through the museum in the order the exhibits were designed to be in, rather than jumping in the middle of a tour and then getting a new tour guide in the middle and continuing on and then leaving the tour in the middle. It was...kind of weird. But fine, I guess. I just don't know why they're afraid to let people wander in the museum alone. There wasn't really anything out in the open to touch. They could have used their tour guides to take people through specific areas rather than carting them through the entire museum. Like, keep a tour guide at the lunch counter and in the Hall of Shame. The rest of the museum is pretty well self-explanatory and/or had a billion signs up and/or was preserved behind plexiglass.

Don't I just have all the answers?

On our way home we swung by Stagville to visit the slave houses on the plantation. As luck would have it we arrived literally just as a tour group was pulling up, so we got to go inside as well. We thought that was pretty awesome. I figured we'd just miss the tour and show Josie the outside, but we got to go inside and listen to the tour guide give her spiel before ditching to head home.

Here are Miriam and Rachel with Auntie Josie, finding finger/foot marks in the bricks:

(Do not blame me, Rachel, when every single picture of you at this age looks like this because you are absolutely pulling these faces on purpose).

Here's Miriam and Benjamin with Auntie Josie in front of a slave house (with a photo bomber in the background—I don't know that kid but he was pretty proud of this moment):

At one point at the Civil Rights Center our tour our guide (who at the time was some white dude) said, "Can you even imagine this happening today?"

"Uhhhh...yes!" People in our group started calling out examples: "Ferguson." "Black Lives Matter."

Our poor little tour guide started sweating under his collar a little and tried to downplay everything by suggesting that we've actually made a lot of progress and that he's not supposed to talk about current events. But seriously. There is still a lot of work to be done before we can truly say we've achieved "liberty and justice for all."**

It feels like these (slave houses) should be ancient history, but they're not. Not really. There were people living in these houses—as they stand—less than 100 years ago. The nicer house on the lot—that has actual glass in the windows and is painted and has a porch—had people living in it until the 1960s! There's a woman in our ward who was born at a slave house like this—her family was not enslaved at that time, obviously, but still! They were living in a home that their recent ancestors had lived in as slaves. It's not ancient's, like, her grandparents were born slaves.

So, today was Civil Rights Day at our house. We've certainly been left wondering how we can use our good luck to help improve the luck of others.

* Have you ever tried being "from" two places at once? It's confusing at times.

** Brag moment: Our second guide (who was a black guy) quoted from the Declaration of Independence, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," and then asked if anyone knew what that was from. He seemed pretty shocked when Miriam's hand shot up in the air and was even more shocked when he called on her and heard her answer. 

"Thomas Jefferson!" she answered confidently. "The Declaration of Independence!"

His point was that at the time of the writing (and, ahem, currently, see: sheer dumb luck, above) all men are/were not created equal and he pressed some button to make the display change the wording to reflect the truth of the time—basically that all white, straight, land-owning, protestant males were created equal (but not even then, really). Still...yay for nerdy kids! (Yay for Hamilton!)

1 comment:

  1. Wow. I do not think that I could stand to go through the Hall of Shame. Just the things the guides said at Stagville made me so burning angry inside! And I had NO CLUE about segregated schools in Nova Scotia! Thanks for the good lessons. The doll test! I had no clue. (Josie did that with that fluffy blue dinosaur--she picked it up in the store and WOULD NOT be parted with it!)