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MORE THAN RACE
By Curtis L. Johnson, Sr.



In spite of the day by day signs of man’s bitter degradation, there were many in the South who somehow still failed to see the endless pain of segregation. From the viewpoint of those who never lived there as well as from those who did reside there (with even better views), for a really long period the South was a very inhumane place for African Americans to be.

With that being the case, one would think that the mind set of blacks was consumed by matters of race, and any notions of happiness and success were best put to rest. One would think that surely many blacks were frozen stiff by the monstrous southern social order, with family life rendered hopeless. One would think that the weak, the weary, and the worn would be stalled by their frustrations.

In many respects, they would not be completely wrong in their assumptions and observations. For far too many, raising an African American family and keeping life and limb intact were not a cake walk or just another day in the park. The southern social order was challenging to say the least.

I do not imply nor suggest any notion that the reality of segregation’s stench should be dismissed. If I even alluded or hinted that all were blessed and bliss, I would certainly be remiss. Nevertheless, if one failed to realize that there was indeed a life well worth the living, something would be greatly missed.

As a native Mississippian, I survived the stormy sixties in America’s windy wilderness. The times were hard, and liberties were limited. In spite of all the blatant racism, black families grew and strived. As God opened their way, their kids played, had fun, worked hard, went to school and prepared themselves for a brighter day.

No amount of terror and injustice could immobilize democracy’s demand for decency, the heart’s search for sanity and civility, or the human spirit’s march for meaning. Those who desired and studied hard finished high school and went on to college. They dared the demons of ignorance and beat back the odds against success. For many years, they faithfully fought off their fears and wiped away their tears. Every conceivable effort was constantly made to strip away their self esteem, but, duty bound, they charged forward, full of faith, and never ceased to hope and dream.

I remember a father who took me and my brothers to the new Roxy movie house in Clarksdale, Mississippi, on many a Monday night.

I remember the hamburger café across the street where we went after the movie for a bite.

I remember the many rides my father took us on along the country sides.

I remember after church on many a Sunday my father took us all to visit our relatives.

I remember going to community baseball games, jumping ropes, swinging high up in the air, and playing on merry-go-rounds on forbidden playgrounds.

I remember Mama’s patience, Mama’s sweetness, and Mama’s sweet blackberry, peach, and apple pies.

I remember Grandma’s courage, Grandma’s commitment, and Grandma’s unmatched love.

I remember Daddy’s business ability, Daddy’s boldness, and Daddy’s barbecue.

Being southern born and raised, I well remember the southern system of apartheid. Given such a segregated way of life, one could easily feel victimized and become preoccupied. On the subject of the racism I experienced growing up, I suppose I could easily get preoccupied and forget about some of the beauty of my childhood that I have learned to treasure. On the subject of victimization, I suppose I could build a very strong case.

But given the fact that, in my view, being preoccupied with all the nation’s negativity would be the perfect portrait of a massive ride along a dead end street, and given the fact that, in my humble opinion, victimization is pure personalized pain and powerless passion on display, given such choices, I choose neither.

I do solemnly choose never to forget the pains of my past, lest I be condemned to repeat them, but I do happily choose to remember my most sacred heritage and pass along its joys and beauty.

As I pause to recall my family life, my relatives, my friends, my teachers and my pastors; as I reflect on the joys of picking up pecans after a long and windy fall’s night; as I reminisce a skillful walk on the railroad tracks, picking blackberries along its banks; and as I so pleasantly remember so much more that filled the hearts and minds of even poor black kids like me, I rediscover that my life and the lives of my peers even back then and there, were about far more than race.

_______________________________________


Curtis Johnson, Sr., a native Mississippian, is a former pastor and presently owns a business with Barbara, his wife of 35 years. Residing near Sacramento, California, he is the proud father of 3 and grandfather of 6 grandchildren. He loves gardening and writing. Email address: cj8080

Read more of Rev. Johnson's stories:
Mattson ~ A Place Unforgotten
Hello, Issaquena!
Man, Mule and Mouse
Missing Mississippi


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