The issue of racism is a difficult one. I am no authority as a white woman who grew up and has lived in middle class white neighborhoods all my life.
Maybe that is why when I wanted to return to college as a middle aged woman I felt drawn to apply to Temple University in the heart of north Philadelphia. I have two children who have graduated from Temple, so I was familiar with the area.
I began my first semester in January. It was an eye opener, as well as a heart opener- and I am so glad I was willing to make the long drive in each Tuesday and Thursday to attend classes.
There, in a general education class called “Kids, Community, and Controversy in American Schools,” I began to get a clearer picture, one that was difficult to believe from my sheltered area of residence in the Lehigh Valley, that racism is still alive and well today. It is still smogging up the air, creating an atmosphere that is preventing people of color from having equal opportunity to breathe freely and prosper in this society. There are so many excuses we use, so many ways we ignore the injustices we are part of continuing.
I knew I needed to follow the opening being created in my heart through what I was learning. Writing my stories on my home blog was great, but I had already been feeling that my writing was meant for something larger, sharing the stories of others who were, and are, “agents of change.” Which brings me to the first of many wonderful and amazing people I want to share with you here.
When I met this man, his story brought me to tears (literally) after one of my classes.
His name is Charles Hamilton Houston, and I would guess you have never heard of him before. I hadn’t. Most of us are familiar with Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X, all noteworthy and highly influential leaders in the civil rights movement of the sixties. However there were people laying the groundwork years before, working tirelessly to create openings and push back oppression. Mr. Houston was one of those people.
In fact he is called “The Man who killed Jim Crow.”
What was Jim Crow? Legalized discrimination and segregation of black people. It was as awful and ugly as it sounds- keeping people from equal opportunity just because of the color of their skin.
Mr. Houston’s path to abolish Jim Crow impressed me. A graduate of Amherst and Harvard colleges, he could have chosen to use his considerable brilliance and education to make a name for himself and build a successful business as a lawyer, but instead chose to dedicate his life to fighting for the right to an equal education for his fellow African Americans.
In a film we saw in class called “The Road To Brown,” I learned it was Houston’s personal experience of mistreatment and injustice while serving as an officer in the army during World War I that lead to his epiphany- to strategically plan out and destroy, legally, Jim Crow. His vision was to end segregation in education.
I would highly recommend watching “The Road To Brown.” Here is a link to a small clip of the film, a full description of what it shares, as well as a means to purchase it for viewing: http://newsreel.org/video/THE-ROAD-TO-BROWN One review of this documentary said this:
“Charles Houston’s legal campaign opened the doors of opportunity for me, my children, and countless others. This dramatic portrayal should be seen by every young American. It will help them understand not only the history of the Brown case but the importance of education to us all.” —- L. Douglas Wilder, former Governor of Virginia
Charles Hamilton Houston took the pain of oppression and turned it into an opening. He died at the age of 54, four years before Brown vs The Board of Education was a success. His tireless work schedule took its toll, as he remained determined to prepare for Brown, refusing to listen to his body and his physicians when they warned him it would kill him if he continued.
No wonder it chokes me up as I write this. How many people are willing to do that?
Thank you, Mr. Houston.
I have so much to learn about this issue, so many ways I can be open to helping bring change… first, in my own heart and mind. On Thursday I want to share two, kind of opposite things- a test I had to take for this class that was initially devastating, and why…. but also something funny, because all these serious subjects can be very heavy, and I want to end this week by lightening things up a bit through humor.
A good laugh helps open us up too, doesn’t it?
I would love to hear your comments about racism. Do you agree it still exists?