I didn’t realize that I grew up in the middle of a time when segregation still existed. (Technically it wasn’t segregation since blacks could go to a predominately white school if they lived in the school zone. Practically speaking though, many schools were and still are segregated.) I was just a kid growing up in Louisiana. I didn’t know it was against the law to have black schools and white schools. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to all-black schools, and I’ve been to diversely populated schools. I was very blessed to attend many different schools growing up.
I didn’t realize that my being bussed to a rural school in La, which was 30 minutes from my house, was a plan to diversify (integrate) schools. I remember there being alot of debate about it. I remember most blacks being unhappy about it, because it meant sending their children to schools in rural areas. (Areas which were not usually friendly towards people of color.)
I remember riding the bus with my little sister and being one of two black families on the entire bus. For the most part, it was a good experience for us. I was only called the n-word one time, and that was by my best friend Diane. She was angry with me at the time. After hearing that, I jumped on her back and a fight ensued. As often happens with eight-year-olds, we were friends again by the end of recess. She was completely forgiven and all was good again. Don’t you wish adults were able to handle conflict that way? (well.. maybe not the physical fight part) Anyway, the bus ride was soooo long. At least an hour’s ride to school each way, maybe longer. I don’t exactly remember.
I didn’t realize that my experience was very different from most blacks. My dad had been a professional football player, so we lived in many different places–Miami,Canada, and San Francisco. I didn’t live in black communities for much of the time. We were exposed to so many people at a young age. While my dad played professional football, we went back and forth between two worlds. During the season, we lived in the big city. We traveled. Life was full of adventure. During the off-season, we lived in a small rural town in La. Life was slow and predictable. We spent most of our time with family. I loved that. It really was the best of both worlds.
So when we were in La, I didn’t realize most of my family and friends hadn’t had the kind of experiences I had had. Honestly, I’m just now realizing how much those early experiences impacted me.
When we moved back to La permanently, we moved into a beautiful house in the country. We were surrounded by white neighbors. Honestly, it didn’t bother me a bit. I was used to being surrounded by people who looked different from me. But here’s what did surprise and bother me. The second year that my sister and I attended the rural school in Goldonna, our bus was changed. No longer would we ride the bus with all of the white children. We would now ride the bus with a black driver and black children. My previous bus would pass by our house to pick up our white neighbors while we waited for the “black bus”.
I hated riding that bus. Every. Single. Day. We would get on the bus, and no one would let us sit in a seat. That is, until the bus driver demanded that they let us sit. They would leave us a sliver of seat on the very edge. We would sit that way for 30min or more, holding on, trying not to fall on the floor. As we rode, we were constantly harrassed. Little kids called us stinky and ugly and threatened to fight us. We felt helpless. Though our skin was the same color, they made it very clear. We weren’t one of them.
They were all from the same community. They all knew one another. They all went to church together. Many of them were related to one another. I didn’t understand why they were so mean to us. Perhaps they thought that we thought we were better than them.
I didn’t realize how hard my parents worked to give us the best educational opportunities they could. As I look back on my childhood, I remember attending eleven schools. Twelve if you count the one week I attended Fair View Alpha. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I believe this diverse education gave me a great foundation and it gave me a confidence that I could thrive in almost any environment.
I didn’t realize I was experiencing segregation when we would go to the doctor’s office, and there were two sides to the lobby. When we entered the front door, there was a wall directly in front of us which divided the lobby in half. At that point, we would have to choose to go right or left of that wall. We ALWAYS went left. The left side was very plain. It was filled with mix-matched chairs. There were no decorations. The right side was completely different. It was so inviting. It seemed warm, compared to the coldness of the left side. It was pretty and the seating looked comfortable.
All of the blacks sat on the left. All of the whites sat on the right. One particular day I remember “our” lobby being completely filled. There wasn’t a seat available, so people were standing. Yet, there were empty seats on the other side of the lobby. I asked my mom why we couldn’t sit on the other side. I don’t remember her answering me. I think she was used to me asking a hundred million questions a day. I was always analyzing and asking “what if” and wanting to know “why”. That lobby was a visible illustration of the invisible lines of color that existed in that small La town. No one made us sit on the left side, everyone knew their place. All– except this little girl who really wanted to sit on the pretty side. But like a good little girl, I never went to that other side. It remains a mystery to me to this day. (In case you’re wondering This was probably in the early 80’s)