We grew up in a segregated community, everything that we needed was in walking distance, the church, the grocery store, the school, and all our friends. My father’s sister Aunt Mary lived three streets over and next to her house was land that the family owned where we grew corn, sweet potatoes, greens, squash, black-eyed peas, green beans (which we called snap beans), and other vegetables.
The neighborhood was still rural, so we raised hogs and chickens, which we sold as well as put on the table. My maternal grandparents owned a farm in the country, which was on the Alabama River, there they grew cotton, cucumbers, corn, all kinds of fruit, everything that was not grown on the community property, was grown in the country and we wanted for nothing.
Sunday mornings were special, we were treated to fried chicken, grits and gravy, and fresh homemade biscuits, we enjoyed our breakfast as we listened to radio as the Angelic Gospel Singers sang “Touch Me Lord Jesus.” Life was good.
My mother taught me to read and write in the back yard while she washed clothes, and hung them on the line to dry, first one load and then another. I learned my ABC’s and 123’s writing them on the ground. “Having Fun with Dick and Jane” was our reading primer and by the time I was three, I had learned to read, life was good.
But between my 3rd and 4th birthdays, I would learn that life was not good for us as a race of people. One late afternoon, a group of men in cars and pick-up trucks wearing white robes and their heads covered with white hoods, and carrying guns rode through our neighborhood.
Our parents tried to rush us into the house, but we were not afraid, just fascinated, so we did not run, we just stood there. Daddy called us into the house and explained to us who those men were. He explained that there was trouble between the Negros and White people in Montgomery and the Klan wanted to be sure the trouble would not spread to Selma.
The lesson that followed that incident would be our first on how to survive as children of the civil rights movement. We were taught that because we are Christians and because we followed the commandments of Jesus Christ, we must love everybody, but do not trust anybody unless you know them. These instructions changed my life forever.