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Black History Month

October 18, 2017
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer (apeterson@esthervillenews.net) , Estherville News

I grew up in Sioux City, on the north side by North High School, and my world was predominantly white.

My parents were school guidance counselors, and they had black friends:?

Mr. W. was a science teacher; his son, Darrell was around my age and the best athlete and singer at his junior high school. Mr. W. was a first-generation Iowan; his parents left Arkansas in the 1930s to raise a family in Iowa.

Dr. B., had a PhD and was school board president. His parents traveled from Mississippi to escape the dangerous racism there.

Mr. F. was pitcher for the Sioux City Ghosts years before Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier. They were an all-black team playing white teams from around the Midwest.

He taught judo and was a gifted tenor who was often requested to sing at weddings, funerals, and benefit concerts.

Mrs. L. is still alive; she was a long time school board member who is now president of the local NAACP.

Dr. M. was the father of one of my classmates, an internist, whom I?thought must have felt great pain at healing others while he lost his wife and son (and eventually his second son)?to aplastic anemia.

Mr. S. was a civil rights attorney.

My takeaway:?the black members of my community were better educated and in most cases earned more money than my parents.

I felt they must be standing on the shoulders of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, and other great leaders.

What I didn't see, what they and their children didn't happen to share with me, was their feelings of ostracism even within what I thought was a fairly accepting community.

Teachers told Tahirah that she was going to end up barefoot and continuously pregnant and on welfare despite her diligence in school.

She didn't, and she's not, by the way. On the contrary, she hasn't yet found the man she'd give her life to, so she goes 100 miles an hour with a helping profession job in Sioux Falls and another in Sioux City.

I knew many black youngsters who were raised in white families, or were biracial, with a well-known white parent.

We expected them to be better at sports than us (several of them were; one young woman teaches English and coaches track at our high school).

We expected them to entertain us. They did. Sometimes to their own detriment when we got into trouble.

Chuck was drummer in our championship jazz band, 1988. We expected him to have more rhythm than any drummer in the competing schools. He certainly did. He's now bright enough to live where it's warm.

Shannan is the daughter of the doctor, and she lost her mother and eldest brother before we were out of elementary school.

She's a doctor, too, now, and also bright enough to live in the southwestern desert. She doesn't have much to say to us after we graduated. We did expect her to be more entertaining, and when she proved to be a bright achiever, she had plenty of pressure to succeed from school officials and her community.

Jesse grew up in an adoptive home with his full black brothers and white parents. Once, in the late '80s, the family awoke to a burning cross in their yard. It was a front page story in the newspaper. I wanted to personally suss out who would do such a thing.

Jesse recently graduated with honors with another degree.

All of which is to say, when I was young, I considered my self very progressive, with black friends, black members of the community to whom I?looked up, but I?have to admit I still considered them different from me. I?would say I honor their identities, which are different from mine, and I?honor those that are the same. We're all members of the human race.

I haven't asked how they feel, raising children to adulthood in our current climate. I have no idea if they've experienced upsetting moments because someone took note of their race.

I?don't know if there's something good, great, or special about being black.

My ancestors were from northern Europe. Their ancestors were from Africa, sometimes by way of the Caribbean.

I?know black history in general: The Autobiography of Malcolm X (as told to Alex Haley)?was one of the books that transformed my life and thinking in college. If you're looking for a place to start on black history, this is definitely one great place, and if you want to watch instead of read, the 1990s Spike Lee movie is very faithful to the original.

Black history is our history. Because they are with us. We are us.

 
 
 

 

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