Alabama & Civil RightsNow that’s amazing. I’m from Alabama originally, and people don’t believe me, but from the, I guess, young child to the age of six, um, where I lived, there were no blacks. And there were only older people. So I had to go to work with my grandmother. She worked with a white family, so I would go with her every day. And all the white children in the community, they were my playmates. So I could go to their house, and I never heard one of their parents say “don’t let her come in here. Send her outside. You go outside and play with her.” I was just like a child, you know, nobody, I didn’t know the difference. All I knew was I was going to Carolyn’s house, I was going to Joteras’ house, I was going to Ricky Slaughter’s house, and then sometimes, they would let them come home with me...where I lived, and play for a little while.
So, they, as Mrs. Clara said, we had, I didn’t experience a lot of, a lot of, hatred at the time, that was at six. When I turned seven I moved to the black side of town and I lost contact. But in those years, two or three years, they were the only students I knew to play with, because I had nobody else to play with.
But my experience of the sixties was that in Greenville, Alabama. And we were 42 miles from Montgomery, which was the seat of the bus boycott. And I can remember, um going to Montgomery and seeing the people walking, three to four people getting in a car, and people didn’t ride the bus, and I can remember that. And then I can remember um, when I moved across town, I can remember the Ku Klux Klan coming through in their cars, and people would say don’t look out the windows, keep the windows closed, cut the lights out, because people didn’t want to see them. Because you know they were putting, they were burning crosses in some of the people’s yards that had been active in the Civil Right Movement. So, and I can remember some of the white people in the city, that owned businesses, that we knew, were KKK. And so people would say “don’t go to that store because George McClury is a member of the KKK.” So, but as far as my family, uh, we never really experienced anything like that but in the community, they would ride through, you know to scare people. You know with the, with the hoods on and everything. And I can remember that.
I know as a young person you sit here and listen to that, you probably might not believe that happened, the way that you, the way that history is always told, that it was chaos, you know, in all the communities. But not in all communities. But you knew something was different because you had, I remember going to the bus station you couldn't to go to the white areas, but other than fellowshipping and family life, you know.
You know going back to the buses, it was interesting too, was that, I can remember the last, was it, three seats, the last three seats in the back of the bus, and the row, the big row seat, and I can remember that you couldn’t past the little, hold on, you couldn’t pass, that was blacks back here and whites up here. Just like when you see, look at Rosa Parks, and it was fifty people on the bus, we had to always squeeze. You had to squeeze up, and there were seats up there, and you couldn’t sit.
And even when I went to high school, and this is something interesting to me, is that um, I mean not high school, just when I went to school period, my uncle in 1953, had just got out of college, and we had to walk to school and it was about three miles, four miles. But anyway, I can remember just as well, that bus would pass us with no kids on it period. And we could not ride the bus, and finally until my uncle got a car, the people that my grandmother worked for, found out about it. And they called the superintendent and said, “Let that boy and that girl ride the bus”. And um they would pick us up, and take us to school. Before then, it was the white bus. They wouldn’t pick us up, but it was the black bus then, because we were not in the area where they pick up kids, and they would just pass by us. But he said let those kids ride the bus until we got a car.
It was um, I have to tell a little story. When I got there, on the Friday, I got ready to leave; they had left a piece of paper on the table that said KKK. The weekend I said Lord, you have to tell me how to deal with this you know with this situation. 2200 students and faculty members of 100 and I’m the only black, um the second black, but the only black female. I can’t deal with this and be successful in what I’m trying to do. So now it’s going to sound silly, but it worked. So that Monday morning I went in and I told the students and said, “you have a problem at the school, you should be happy that I came here because you don’t know your alphabets!” and they looked at me and they said “what is she talking about?” and I said “well you get to the letter k, and you can’t move. You just say kkkkk. I say now you are trying to impress me, but look, I know about Nashville, Tennessee. I know about gun racks in the back of the trucks, big wheel and mud on the side, I always wanted to sing at the grand old opera. (Singing) I was sitting by the fireplace, and I thought about my baby. I said you don’t have to prove anything to me; I’m here to help you. I said that, to every class, all day long. After that day, I had no more problems.
And, the next year, they dedicated the yearbook to me. I went to every funeral, wedding, free dinners at their homes, everything after that, I had no more problems. Because I let them know I was there for a reason, and that was to help them to be successful. And I often think, what would have happened had I not taken that stupid way of expressing myself to them? But it worked. So you have to find a way, you can’t just get all upset when somebody does something to you, you have to find a way to be one step above them. So that was my step.
Last updated: May 27, 2021