Judy Spooner: Thank goodness it’s a new day for younger generationI had the privilege to share the inauguration of President Barack Obama with Cindy Krueger’s fifth-grade class at Grey Cloud Elementary School.
By: Judy Spooner, South Washington County Bulletin
I had the privilege to share the inauguration of President Barack Obama with Cindy Krueger’s fifth-grade class at Grey Cloud Elementary School.
The kids are studying government and have just finished learning about George Washington and the Revolutionary War.
Believe me, Krueger took full advantage of a “teachable moment” as history was made on Tuesday.
As television cameras panned over prominent Washington D.C. sites, the kids shouted out the names of all of them as if they had been there and seen them, including the war memorials.
I was so impressed with the way the kids paid attention to every detail of the occasion. During the official prayer, they were respectful but their attention seemed to wander. My attention was elsewhere as well.
We all paid close attention to what our new president said during his speech.
When I interviewed students they all said that the most important thing about the day was that an African American had been elected.
Later, I thought back to a series of incidents when I was their age that influences my life even today.
I was 11 when our family drove to Florida for a winter vacation with my grandparents.
It was 1952 and my sister, Connie, and brother, George, were excited when the snow disappeared as we entered Louisiana. We stayed in motel in Baton Rouge, the capital, and went to a restaurant for dinner.
During dinner, an African American girl who didn’t look much older than me was filling water glasses at each table. Back then, society referred to Black people as “negroes.”
I watched her, not having seen an African American before. She accidentally spilled a glass of water into the lap of a White woman about my mother’s age.
The woman was indignant and berated the girl. She slapped her several times across the face so hard that the girl fell to the floor. She repeatedly kicked the girl and called her names, using words I didn’t recognize.
Later, in tears, I asked my mother why no one tried to help the girl. She said we were in a part of America where things were not like they are at home.
After reading “colored only” signs on gas station bathrooms and in restaurants, I asked what the words meant. She told me it meant “negroes” have separate bathrooms.
At one gas station, while my parents were occupied, I sneaked over to a “colored” drinking fountain and took a drink. It was not different from the “white” one. I was confused.
In nearly every town we drove through (before interstate highways) I saw groups of run-down homes just outside them.
They are called “shanty-towns,” my mother said, where the Negroes live. “Why don’t they live in the towns with the other people? In Sunday School, they told me God loves everyone,” I said.
No matter how adults tried to explain it, I knew that girl in Baton Rouge was like me. As I grew older, I saw two worlds.
I’m glad my fifth-grade friends at Grey Cloud are living in color-blind world.
It only took 51 years.