EVERYDAY PEOPLE WERE ALSO HEROES FOR CIVIL RIGHTS. THIS IS THE STORY OF A FIGHT IN ONE TOWN. I frame with a src of “https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1130256624/1130257445” ‘width=100%’, ‘height=290’, ‘frameborder=0′, and’scrolling=no’ Expand this image, title=’NPR embedded audio player’ NPR’s Cornell Watson
switch to caption NPR’s Cornell Watson NPR’s Cornell Watson I had no clue that I would wind up recounting the tale of my own family when I initially started kicking around the concept of profiling members of the civil rights generation earlier this year.
I’m used to speaking up for others and giving them a platform, but I never put my own loved ones in the forefront.
But the more I considered it, the more sense it made to look a little closer to home. My mom, Phyllis Jones, and my uncle, Ben Thorpe, witnessed the turbulent desegregation of the community where my family was raised. None of the history books mention them. Their tales are not original. But tales like theirs demonstrate that the past is still very much alive in a nation that still battles ferociously with issues of race, the legacies of slavery, and Jim Crow. It’s nearby, breathing life, and alive.
RACE It’s what inspired me to begin ‘civil rights generation’ profiling. You may be familiar with names like Fred Gray, who represented Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. And those you don’t, such as my mother Phyllis and my uncle Anthony, whom I refer to as.
Ordinary folks experienced exceptional times. And we must always remember.
Ayesha Rascoe is correct
switch to caption Inez Rascoe CHANGE CAME PAINFULLY SLOWLY WHEN IT CAME. I learned there was a lot about my mom and uncle’s experiences that even I didn’t know when interviewing them.
In the 1960s and 1970s, they grew up in Oxford, North Carolina, a small rural community. Oxford, which is located about 30 miles from Durham, has a charming downtown and plenty of fields and farm animals on the outskirts, giving it a Mayberry-like appearance. The cash crop in those days was tobacco.
After the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 and the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education declaring segregation in public schools unconstitutional, regulations were altering across most of the nation. Oxford was not, though.
Cornell Watson for NPR at the top
switch to caption NPR’s Cornell Watson Even the most routine interactions were affected by prejudice and segregation in the lives of my mother and her siblings. For instance, they formerly shared a house with a low-income white family.
The white family lived next to us, and “the kids” played with us there. But they refused to play with us in front of others. Because we were Black, they primarily played with us at home and were unable to publicly display how close our friendship was, according to my mother. “If we were outside, they wouldn’t have known us.”
I was unaware that my mother had gone through that until we spoke for this tale.
Additionally, just going to the store with my grandmother was a hassle.
I have vivid memories of us visiting the 5- and 10-cent store. Mama was the one who would lecture us. My mother recalled that she would tell us not to move. She would instruct us to remain still and not move. The server would take her time, and we “had” to walk back to the car and enjoy the food after waiting in the back corner.
She recalled questioning why they couldn’t sit down yet the white people could.
The way my mother raised us, though, meant that we didn’t question it.
NPR’s Cornell Watson
switch to caption NPR’s Cornell Watson My uncle Anthony said, “I believe that’s why my mother used to leave us in front of the church while she went shopping. My mother would leave us there while she went shopping in town, parking under these shady trees. Because mother was so terrified, she very rarely allowed us to accompany her in town when we were younger. She was terrified that something might occur.
A BLACK MAN’S MURDER WOULD CHANGE EVERYTHING Something did occur in Oxford in 1970, only a few doors down from my great-home. grandfather’s
Henry “Dickie” Marrow, a young Black guy, was brutally murdered by white shop owners outside their establishment because they thought he had said something unfavorable to a white woman.
switch to caption NPR’s Cornell Watson That murder altered Oxford for all time, thanks to another local, Ben Chavis.
In contrast to my mother and uncle, one can find information about Chavis in history books. He is a pioneer in civil rights. By the age of 12, he had an NAACP membership card, and he later rose to the position of group president.
By the age of 14, Chavis was serving as the youth organizer for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Therefore, Chavis was a skilled organizer when Marrow was assassinated, even though he was just in his early 20s.
Chavis believed it was time to take action after a jury made up entirely of white people found the guys who shot Marrow not guilty.
switch to caption NPR’s Cornell Watson ‘We organized a 45-mile march from Oxford to Raleigh, and we probably had a few hundred marchers when we started. More than 3,000 people had joined the march by the time we arrived in Raleigh. It simply expanded,” Chavis stated.
At that time, Oxford’s Black customers had no choice except to patronize White-owned stores. Chavis and the others made the decision to strike the town’s white residents where it hurt: their wallets.
People were aware that action was required to prevent a repeat of the incident. We reasoned, “Why should we spend money with people who don’t respect us?” Why should we invest our money in a city that won’t hire? stated Chavis.
At this point, my mother and uncle were roughly 12 and 10 years old. They didn’t discuss the murder with my grandparents, but they do recall the boycott and having to go shopping in nearby Roxboro.
A phase of instability was also present. White-owned businesses and tobacco fields were set on fire by protesters. Town officials imposed a curfew in response. For my family, it was a scary time because my grandfather, an orderly, worked late shifts at the nearby hospital.
Because we knew where he was going, uncle Anthony added, “We remained up until my father got home because we knew he was going to get stopped by the state troopers, or he would get stopped by the local cop, or perhaps by the FBI.”
Fortunately, my grandfather always returned home unharmed. And finally, after months of the boycott, Oxford underwent change.
Many of our demands were satisfied, according to Chavis. Many people received their initial employment in life downtown. They are still employed there. We thereby desegregated a sizable portion of the city. Many of the businesses that resisted desegregation shut down. For instance, instead of desegregating, the theater simply shuttered.
Change also occurred in the segregated schools, although black children continued to be threatened with bombs. Uncle Anthony was one of a test group of Black kids sent to a white school in the fall of 1970, in the thick of all of this. In the third grade, he was. He recalls feeling anxious as he boarded the school bus.
‘At this point, we were on a bus with people of various races. Uncle Anthony answered, “We knew nothing about that. “They did this,” I said. Seats were assigned. Thus, they combined the group of us.
switch to caption NPR’s Cornell Watson Children were thus segregated on the bus based on race even though efforts were being made to “desegregate.” The conflict continued after that.
We received bomb threats every day, he claimed. “Many people in the neighborhood didn’t want us in the all-white school,”
I had no idea that my uncle, who was only 10 years old, had received bomb threats for attending school.
These are the narratives that have influenced the history of our family and ultimately this nation.
These topics weren’t publicly discussed by my grandparents with their children. To keep them safe, they did that. The truth is all that my mother and her siblings want people to know.
switch to caption Inez Rascoe My mother stated, “I wanted my kids to know things that happened so you guys could tell it to your kids and so on.” However, I also wanted children to be aware of the history so they might strive to live lives even better than those of our parents or grandparents. Knowing your background will help you comprehend situations much better.