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Civil Rights Movement, looking back

It’s been more than 50 years since the start of the Civil Rights Movement. So much has taken place in those short decades, but it’s hard to imagine, for me, a world much different than today, with so many opportunities for so many different people. I was born in the ’80s, so I really have no perspective on what took place in those crucial years. I thought it might be interesting to take a look back and interview some people who actually experienced the movement to see what they have to say after all these years, paying particular attention to the the black movement and the idea of racism.

(What I found may surprise you. I know it did me.)

Overall, it seems that my three interview subjects, ethnicity aside, have generally the same feeling on the Civil Rights Movement in that it was a very important and certainly constructive progress that truly needed to take place in order to provide a few more stepping stones on the path toward bringing the United States closer to having a society where all men may truly believe that they are created equal. Not one of my three participants took any sort of radical racist point of view or explained that they felt blacks were “unjustified” or that this event should never have taken place. This is something I found to be quite interesting. Although each of my interviewees were from relatively different areas geographically, they were all born and raised in up north, a fact that I think had a very significant impact on how each one of them experienced this epic event in history.

As any historical text on the time period suggest, many of the violent racial acts committed against blacks during this period were performed in the South. Obviously, this reason is deep rooted in the history of our country, with ties back to the early colonial period of our nation, or even more specifically, the Civil War era where one of the plights of the South with the North was over the right of mostly white male plantation owners to maintain ownership of African American human beings, or slaves at that time.

Between all three of the interviews I conducted, there was only one real mention of any hands on experience, or even first hand sighting of any serious racial act over the approximate fifteen years each one of my interview subjects spent living through this period. All three make note of barely seeing any discrimination in their hometowns or anything truly prejudice where they grew up during the Civil Rights era.

“It was if it was another world,” Jerry, my second subject, said.

“We didn’t even differentiate between them. They played sports. They were treated just like everyone else,” my first subject, Joyce, pointed out.

“We were the only black family, for probably about…I mean, I only had white friends until I went to junior high and there was never any difference,” Debbie, the third person I interviewed, explained.

Each interviewee agreed that hearing about what was going on in the South, with regard to the violence and harsh segregation, had only been seen on television or on the news. I have to wonder if this is because of the region of the U.S. that each person was living in during this time that this is so. I didn’t think the North was that different from the South in the way that blacks were treated. I mean, if this were true, why didn’t all the blacks down south come rushing like ants out of the woodwork for protection up north?

Each one of my participants’ views on this monumental affair in history seem only to differ slightly from one another, but it is here that these minute details are key.

During my first interview, with Joyce, I came to find out that her take on the whole civil rights situation was very much in support of national equality and overall worldwide equality. From what she told me, it seemed almost as if the whole 400 years of slavery in our country never existed, or at least not in her home town. She spoke about other people and how she never heard or witnessed any prejudicial acts generated toward anyone and that everyone treated everyone equally. I found her statements somewhat hard to believe, but maybe this is only because whenever I hear about the Civil Rights Movement, I immediately think about all the violence that took place and how awful it must have been for the black community and for the whites who were trying to help them out.

(As an aside, I think the media and even some prominent writers like to focus, and perhaps exaggerate, on events in order to make them more appealing, or worth mentioning, and since I wasn’t around during the sixties and seventies, my only experience with this event is thus through the media and written word. Therefore, I could very well be wrong about disbelieving some of what my interview materials suggest.)

My second interview, with Jerry, was by far the most outspoken, least modest, and realistically the closest to becoming racist in words. The information he provided gave me insight on how many people who were raised with the issue of race being a little closer to home, and with probably some genuinely decent parenting, would turn out.

While maintaining a fine, yet solid barrier between being somewhat prejudice and completely accepting, Jerry explained that he had indeed encountered some “bouts with blacks,” but it wasn’t necessarily over a race issue, especially during the Civil Rights era.

He went on to uncover some of his own personal experiences, which could be viewed as bias on his part, he being white, but these were all incidents that occurred well after the Civil Rights Movement. His true feelings on the issue only surfaced when I asked him questions about how he feels about the U.S. now after this crucial turning point in history, and how he believes blacks have changed as a direct result. It’s obvious that Jerry feels that equality is important to be maintained and upheld for all people and should definitely be provided for blacks, but he points out that he feels all races should act a certain way in order to determine whether or not they are “worthy” and “deserving” of freedom and equal opportunity, such as being “cordial,” “civilized” and mainly just having the attitude of “treating others as you would have them treat you.”

To me, my final subject was the most interesting.

Debbie is an African American woman who believes in equality for all people of this world. She experienced very little prejudice or discrimination throughout her life and has become very proud of her roots and herself through learning from her family and its history and personal past experiences.

When I sat down with Debbie, I was honestly expecting to hear a whole load of how many times she’d experienced someone slighting her because of her ethnicity, or how many times someone had called her a vulgar name or committed racist actions due to the color of her skin. I was shocked at this interview most of all. Debbie is a strong individual with solid beliefs and morals and seemingly was never ashamed of her skin color, as many African Americans have admitted to, and in some cases, still do today as a result of demeaning racial stereotyping in our society. But what surprised me most of all about this particular interview was that Debbie didn’t experience any form of racism or discrimination until she began to really integrate with other African Americans.

Something else that surprised me was the way in which Debbie regards affirmative action measures. She is completely against affirmative action and even explained that because of it, she turned down many job offers. Her whole attitude on this subject shocked and amazed me, and maybe that’s actually some form of stereotyping on my part.

It became obvious to me through these interviews that all those who lived during the Civil Rights era were affected in one manner or another by it, and as a direct result of it. It was also apparent that these people had in some way had contact with the race issue before, and while this important era was occurring. It just goes to show that racism truly is a “deep seeded” issue that can only be turned into something positive and righteous by the selfless actions of those in favor of equal rights for all human beings, as the Constitution of our mighty country says (although not initially intended as such).

Overall, what I took away from the reporting behind this article is the importance of our differences as individual human beings and that relying on text material only will never provide a full understanding of any concept. You have to get out there and ask the questions, see the sights and really take part.

I’ll be far less inclined to make judgments on people, especially historical figures and general persons, in the future after this.

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