This morning I cried. Now at the age of 55, I've had many reasons to cry; many easily identifiable reasons that is. Today for some strange reason I remembered Emmitt Till. I don't know what triggered the memory but it was quite a vivid one; a memory of seeing his body displayed in the centerfold of Jet Magazine. While I'm sure of the event, I cannot verify whether the memory of a photograph is a true memory.
I was 9 years old in 1955, the middle daughter of three in a small rural area of Jefferson County, Alabama. That was the summer I discovered that not only was I considered less than an equal to whites, but actually inferior!!
My father worked for the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company (TCI) and my mother worked at a small powdered milk factory. We lived a fairly good life in that ours was a small family in an area where many had 8-12 children and most mothers were not employed outside of the home.
Interaction with any other ethnic group was limited to the occassional trip to "town" for a new pair of shoes or other needed items where we were waited on by the white clerks. Strangely enough, I have no memories of ever having been slighted or treated poorly on any of our many excursions.
Did the murder of Emmitt Till alter the fabric of our lives? Or did my own perception of that life tilt and twist? All that i know is that things were never the same for me again. I suddenly saw racism, I saw hatred for my skin color and I felt the stigma of being nonwhite,and I became aware of the need to fight ignorance and embrace a cause for justice and equality under the law.
While life has brought me neither fame nor infamy, I am proud to have been one of those many school children who, in 1963 participated in the demomstrations in Birmingham. I,too faced the wrath of Bull Connor and his dogs, the fire hoses and the billy clubs of the racist cops. My family sent me north to my grandmother to get me out of town as they feared for my life. In fact, I was in Detroit on the morning of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church,having arrived the previous Thursday.
So while my name may mean nothing, and I may just be another face in the crowd, multiply me by ten thousand and I AM. Now middle aged, approching my senior years, I look around, and Ilook back and Ilook ahead.... Hence, sometimes I cry.
by Sammie Thompson-Stevenson
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