America Chooses to Change
Dreams have been realized. Fears did not materialize. Barack Obama has been elected the next President of the United States. And today, it feels so very good.
I was in the fourth grade when I first became aware that there was supposed to be a difference in black people and white people. Little Michael Morris joined our classroom at Longfellow Elementary that year after Dunbar Colored School in Mayfield was closed and our classes were integrated by court order.
I remember how small and quiet and scared he looked as he took his seat in the row next to mine. His eyes never left his desk. Thankfully, that allowed me not have to meet his glance since I was sure staring.
I was so curious with wonder at what made this sweet little boy with downcast eyes and dark skin different from me? Must have been something I couldn’t see. But different he was, I had been told. My parents had instructed me to leave him alone. “You just don’t need to talk to him,” my mom and dad had warned.
Good girl that I was, I obeyed. It made me feel bad inside, though, until one day he looked up and finally, together, we smiled. After all, another thing that Daddy and Mama had taught me was to always live by the Golden Rule.
That is all I recall of him as my classmate after that time. Our smiles.
During the years that followed I believed that perhaps I had dreamed that awful mandate to not speak to the black child. My father proudly introduced me to black friends of his when I joined him on daily excursions around town. I realized then that life sure was full of interesting contradictions and surprises.
I loved going with Daddy to the little market on the other side of town or to the uptown courthouse and post office. It made me feel special to meet and greet all different kinds of folks outside of my regular church and school groups.
As I entered high school, I had many black classmates but not any that I could call friends. As I planned my 16th birthday party and made out a guest list my parents questioned me about each name they didn’t recognize. “Now, just who is this Don Tharpe?” they asked.
“Oh,” I said proudly, “he is president of the senior class.” More details were needed for their satisfaction and when they learned that he was black he was instantly nixed from my list. I was hurt, humiliated and heartbroken. This contradiction horribly surprised me.
The last time I checked up on Don Tharpe, he was receiving the 2005 Murray State University Distinguished Alumnus award as president and CEO of the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, D.C. I would love to shake his hand today.
As I recalled these memories during the last week, I could hardly imagine that there was hope for change in America on Election Day.
But now, I believe, that we can hold these truths self evident, that all men are created equal. We now must continue to pray for peace with liberty and justice for all.