Separate But One
A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Alabama and I took a few pictures, one is a montage titled “Family Ties” and the other an exhibit of water fountains, a refrigerated one for whites and a sink for coloreds titled “Barriers.” Both installments tell a story, and perhaps even stories, dependent upon the storyteller, but they both highlight separation.
Separation made the black community more resilient, connected, and in love. Merriam-Webster’s definition of resilience is: the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused by compressive stress or misfortune. It also means an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.
During the fight for civil rights black Americans looked out for each other. Even if you didn’t have children you looked out for somebody’s child. If you weren’t a wife you still made sandwiches or a meal for freedom fighters. There was no me and mine, but we, there was a collective. You were friend or foe and outliers went about their business elsewhere. And this just wasn’t happening in Birmingham, it was happening across the nation. We were all connected and there was no internet.
There was love in the community and there were patriarchal families. When there were losses from either death or economic downturn, families reached out to one another and filled in the gaps. The Montgomery, Alabama Bus Boycott would not have been a success if it had not been for love and community tightly knitting each member together in solidarity. For more than a year, black families relied on each other to get to and from work, school, church, stores, and elsewhere without the use of public transportation. This was in 1955 and public transportation was heavily relied on in the black community. The boycott was phenomenal and it financially crippled the bus company leaving them on the cusp of bankruptcy.
Social media in that day was television and it operated nothing like social media today. Thoughts and ideas were held captive in living rooms and at dinner tables, or maybe even a dark place out in the woods lit only by a flame. Discussions were being had by all parties on either side, but the main difference is the discussions were contained. Today, thanks to social media, discussions abound. Be it truth, lies, or rhetoric spewed by the misinformed, discussions are still being had socially, but there is little containment and communities across the country irrespective of race or on fire.
The tongue is likened to a fire in the holy scriptures, and the fire if not contained can be harmful. What will you use your fire for today? Will you speak out for injustice? Be a light in the darkness? Or will you believe the lies and disinformation? Why not be a truth-seeker? Ungodly hatred is a strange fire that consumes everything in its path. If we burn down our bridges where or how will we go forward?
We’re almost halfway through the month of February, Black History Month. I encourage you to take the time to explore just one story amongst many black history stories this month.