Ruby Bridges Goes to School
Right up there through the history books honoring brave students who lead the integration movement was a kindergartner names Ruby Bridges. Many don’t know a lot about this brave little girl but I think she played a prominent role in the civil rights movement. She had a mother with a dream: for a daughter to have better opportunities than she did. Her mom knew the white school nearby was better than the black schools so she marched holding her daughter’s hand to make a change.
For one little girl entering into their school many parents pulled their kids out of school, threatened her and her family, she had to spend the first day at the principal’s office for protection, and she was put in a class by herself with the only teacher willing to teach her. That was just the tip of the iceberg, as her father lost his job, her grandparents got evicted from their sharecropping farm, and even the grocery store stoped selling goods to her mom. All this didn’t deter her and she kept going to school until more black students started enrolling in the school.
Ruby was only in kindergarten and was already civil rights activist through her actions. She had to have four federal Marshall’s escort her to schools through a screaming mob, and she still went to school everyday. Some may say as a kid, she only followed her mom’s orders, but if my mom was moving me away from my friends and sending me to a school like that, I would have thrown so many tantrums, that she would have no choice but to let me back into my old school.
The Emmett Till story is very heart wrenching for me because it showed how cruel the Jim Crow Era really was. For a young boy to be tortured to such an extreme, and then killed in that manner just because he was accused of just whistling at a white woman. At that point black people were not regarded as humans, because hatred and racism blinded most.
In Southern Horrors Ida B. Wells highlighted that such acts were done just to validate white supremacy and most of the men accused of rape were not given trial, and some were even taken out of jail to be killed. The white people saw it as the only way to restore white rule. In cases where the sexual encounters did occur, they were mostly consensual but the white women in question, were often forced to talk about rape, and if they refused they were shunned. On the other hand, it was perfectly fine for a white man to seduce a black woman as well as they don’t try to marry them.
The worst people in these situations were not those doing the violence and lynching but those who sat there and did nothing- choosing to stay ignorant. Many in the North ignored the true conditions that a lot of black people were going through, and though many black people moved to the North for better opportunities, they still met with racism.
Langston Hughes was one of the first people we have come across in this class who addressed Culture. He did this in a time of great cultural growth for the black community, during the “New Negro Movement”. He discussed the racial mountain, and how young black artists attempt to alter their work in order to better represent white culture, and climb up the racial mountain as much as they can.
Since Langston Hughes has published this article the topic has changed. Black artists have embraced their own culture for what it is, through things like hip-hop and other unique arts produced by black artists. In our current society there is a great deal of dialogue about cultural appropriation. A lot of white artists use aspects of black culture to help advance their own art, and further themselves. Most recently, rapper Post Malone has been accused of doing this, which is why i’m bringing up this topic.
I find it interesting that we are almost dealing with the reverse of what Langston Hughes was originally discussing. While the racial mountain is definitely still present, I would argue that it is less present in some fields than others, like the hop-hop/rap community which is not dominated by whites because it is unique to black culture. I do think that it should be a testament to black culture, and how far it has come, since white artists feel the need to steal a bit of black culture in order to find more success in their own work.
In Ida B Wells article “Southern Horrors”, she sheds light on the topic of lynching throughout America, but also on the media coverage of it. She provides a great critique of the media, in a time when that was not accepted by anyone of the black community, but also a woman.
When she published one of her first works in Memphis the printing press that was used to publish the document was smashed by an angry white mob. She was forced to flee the state for her own safety and go to New York, where her work would be a bit more accepted. In her article “Southern Horrors” she directly addresses how members of the black community are portrayed by the media in the South. They are described as barbaric, and that they are unable to be polite without the guidance of their former white owners. Articles like this were widely accepted by the white community, and skewed the perception of African Americans for years to come.
This is still an issue that we face today. Consistently white americans who commit crimes are described as having mental illnesses and a troubled past. Black Americans are however portrayed in a much more violent light, again displaying the bias in the media that still persists today. Its interesting to read about how activists recognized this problem in the media almost 150 years ago. But, its disheartening that its a problem we still face today.
Lacey Schwartz is the filmmaker and star of the documentary Little White Lie which details her experience of growing up believing she was completely white and later discovering that she was biracial (black and white). I had the opportunity to see the documentary and talk with Lacey and upon later reflection there were some things that stayed with me.
One thing that stuck with me was something Lacey’s mom said “this conversation wouldn’t be so dramatic had I had an affair with a white man and not a black one.” I recounted the Ida B. Wells piece, Southern Horrors, the reason this piece stuck with me was Lacey’s mom started the affair with her biological father in the 60s. While lynching might not have been as frequent they still occurred. Within Wells’ piece she discusses how most black men were lynched under the guise of raping of white woman, but really for having relationships “their” white women. I couldn’t help but wonder afterwards how things could have played out had her mother owned up to the affair especially since she was married to a white man at the time. While they lived in the North, which was a little more progressive, I still can’t imagine that it would have been easy to admit that she had an affair with a black man.