Growing Up Black in Atlanta – The Early 1960s

Cynthia Griggs Fleming wrote Soon We Will Not Cry: The Liberation of Ruby Doris Smith Robinson.  It is the moving story of Ruby Doris who was a founding member of the Atlanta Student Movement and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.  I met her sister, Mary Ann Booker, this summer and discovered the book.  I’m including an excerpt from Fleming’s book which resonated after I visited the South on the Solano Travel Course last June.  As I walked down Auburn Street in Atlanta, Beale Street in Memphis, and 5th Avenue in Birmingham I realized that African Americans lived so separately from whites in many places that they had parallel middle class lives.  In Pineville, South Carolina, they had parallel rural farming lives.  Whites often didn’t know about the black world, as the book The Help makes clear.  And blacks often didn’t know about whites unless they worked in their homes or businesses.

“The education that Ruby and other black youngsters of her generation received was firmly anchored in Christian moral ethics.  Consequently, the personal achievement and racial uplift that were the twin goals of black education were intertwined with the insistence on adherence to Christian ethics as a prerequisite to achieving these goals.  Vincent Franklin explains the genesis of this eductional and ethical connection: ‘Afro-American families not only preserved and passed on cultural values supporting education and social advancement, but also taught their children to read and write as part of the parental responsibility for the Christian education of the younger generation.’  The connection between education, racial uplift, and Christian ethics made perfect sense to a young Ruby Doris who had grown up surrounded by acceptance of these values in her family and her neighborhood.  Thus, her high school experience provided powerful reinforcement of a value system that had always been part of Ruby’s life.

“Ruby Doris and her sisters and brothers lived a comfortable life in their separate black world.  They had strong adult support, and they had their own churches, schools and social activities.  No matter how insulated they were, though, the reality of racism and segregation still managed to intrude into their daily lives from time to time.  Black youngsters of this generation reacted in a variety of ways to America’s ugly racist reality.  Mary Ann was aware of segregation, but ‘everything was so separate you just didn’t think about it.’  Willie’s response complemented Mary Ann’s: ‘You basically accept what you have to accept and then you move on from there.  Bobby remembers that one of the injustices they had to accept was segregated schooling.  During that era, the vast majority of white public school students attended neighborhood schools.  That was not true for African Americans.  Race, rather than proxmity, routinely determined the black student’s fate.  Whereas a white elementary school stood on the corner of Little Street and Capitol Avenue, only one block from the Smith house, the Smith children attended E.P. Johnson, ten blocks away.  In reflecting on the absurdity of this situation, Bobby recalls: ‘We never thought about it because it was just…like we inherited.  So it was just like something we came into.'”

What have we inherited or “just come into” in our lives that should be questioned?

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