This is a picture of my grandfather, my mother’s father. This picture was taken on Shadeland Avenue in Pleasantville, New Jersey where the road bends. It’s in the elbow. He’s wearing the hat which is part of his postal uniform. So is his friend, George Watson. They were friends for life. These men are working together to build a church so they do not have to worship in the living room. The cinder blocks on the left would become the walls of the church where I was to be baptized and confirmed. They were the walls where I would worship and grow for many years of my life.
This too is my grandfather, in the back yard of his home in Atlantic City before he moved to Pleasantville. The woman to his left is the grandmother of my grandmother. The children are are her great grandchildren and include my mother the tallest…the oldest. They called my great grandmother Big Ma. She raised many of her grandchildren…her children perished early…one by one. She raised them as siblings. She was a former slave.
My grandfather was a Republican for most of his life…mainly out of loyalty…Lincoln of course freed the slaves…and in this community…they gave out the jobs.
This is my mother and my oldest brother. They are on their way to Cuba with my father. My father played in the Negro Leagues for the Newark Eagles. He played in Cuba for Cienfuegos and later Havanas. Blacks (Negroes) were banned from playing in the “Major” Leagues until 1947. And so he would follow the sun to Cuba from the time he was 19 years old and play alongside the same American whites he was prohibited from playing with in America.
These are my father’s parents. They came north after my grandfather was “run out” of Oxford Mississippi where he was the head master of a school for “coloreds”. He would later teach “colored” student in Pleasantville in the back portion of Park Avenue School in Pleasantville before they integrated classes.
This is my father’s grandfather. He fought in the Civil War on the side of the Union. He fought in battles from North Carolina to Georgia. He was “disappeared” for some time. The men in my family have fought in every war from the Civil War to the Gulf War. They served in various branches and were all discharged honorably.
One of the reasons I’m introducing you to these people because it is the “short month” - Black History Month. The second is that their stories are mine, and in many ways they define me and how I view the world, particularly this country where we have spent all of our lives. When I constantly heard the phrase, “Make America Great Again”, I had to pause…and wonder… Where is this going? And I watched, and listened, and began to experience the most vile behaviors directed at me and other minorities. I was not as vocal as I could have been even though I had a sense of what “again” meant to many. In particular those who appeared to be leading the charge.
When the transition team and advisors were selected, and among them was a person who has made his position quite clear about how he feels about people who look like me, I understood where this was going. When cabinet nominations were announced and government departments were lifted up for the chopping block…I understood where this was going. When Executive Orders were issued without fully understanding their implications for thousands of people...including friends and their loved ones…I understood where this was going. I knew that I could not be quiet…nor could I wait for yet another shoe to drop, or axe to fall. Huge amounts of money have replaced democracy in this country. And although money has always been a driving force in politics and public policy, it is even more so now. It has been the case since the first Africans were brought here as slaves and Native Americans were disenfranchised. It has now been decried that corporations are now viewed as people given the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission. Pay to Play appears to be the new motto of the day.
It would be irresponsible of me to sit quietly and allow for this to continue without raising my hand and voice…adding my body to the dissent. Not hate, as it has been viewed, but dissent. Having lived through the civil rights movement, through Co-intel-pro, through Watergate, through Selma, Montgomery and every other voice of dissent that has risen to make America great. It is through the voices of those who have struggled to obtain decent housing, living wages, voting rights for women and minorities, a just judicial system, equitable health care, a clean and healthy environment; and a thorough and efficient public education system that have helped to make America great. It is because I clearly recognize that we are not all we can be, but we are better than we have been. It is because I have no intentions of contributing to any voice that would have us turn back.
From the looks of things, that is where we are headed. So “hate” is not a word in my vocabulary as it relates to any living being. I believe we are too connected for that to be a possibility for me. What I can say is that I do hate particular policies and policy decisions that are being made at the highest levels of this government. I hate that they are divisive, and intended to be so. I hate that they have been thoughtless and reckless. I hate that I ache to the deepest part of my being that we are still having these conversations.
This is a picture of my husband, my children and some of my grandchildren. It represents only a part of the richness that is my family. We have religious differences, ethnic differences and even differences in values. But one thing is clear for us…we will not stand in any way with those who would take us back to a point in time here the leaders of this nation would seek to divide us.