Monday, October 3, 2011

A Quick History Lesson

To some, this is just an ordinary water fountain, but to many, this fountain is a symbol of oppression and dehumanization of an entire people--sanctioned by law. This fountain, until the 1960s, had a sign on it that said "Whites Only."

I was visiting my father in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where he had recently moved because he disliked the harsh winters of a condensed Illinois and longed to be in the vast countryside where he grew up.

It was the second to last day of my trip when my father decided to take me downstate so that I could experience my roots. He would take to to Ivan, a hamlet about two counties away from the Louisiana border, so I could see the land my family owned and the community they worked hard to build and maintain. Before we arrived there, though, we stopped at the Dallas County Courthouse in Fordyce, the county seat, to collect paperwork. As we were leaving, my father noticed this very fountain, one that got him in a lot of trouble.

He was 9 years old, and his aunt brought him to the Courthouse to renew her driver's license. She left him in the lobby and told him not to drink from the fountain. Being that he was it was a hot Southern day and he was thirsty, and also being that he was an Andrews, which means that he would have a certain amount of stubbornness, he drank from the fountain anyway. His aunt caught him at the right moment. She grabbed him by the arm, lead him from the courthouse, and gave him a severe beating.

Those, like me, who are against corporal punishment, especially in public, must understand that she did this not out of intended brutality, but to protect him and the family. If she just walked away nonchalantly, the least that would happen is that he or she would be fined or arrested. The worst that would happen is that, this being a small town, the Klan would find out and terrorize the family. It would not matter that he was just a child. He had contaminated a water fountain meant for Whites--an unforgivable offense. This notion is preposterous to people living today, but not so for those living back in those times.

After my father told this story, he approached the fountain and took a long, satisfying sip, and I did the same. Neither of us were really thirsty, but in drinking from that fountain, we created a testimony. The dark era of hate and humiliation was gone.

I hope that the Black inner-city youth are reading this. The message I wish to give to them is simple: those who saw to it that the "Whites Only" sign was removed from that and other Southern fountains did not do so by dropping out of school and insisting that the world owes them something. They did not do so by fathering more children than they intend to rear, wearing "bling" and hanging their pants down to show their boxers. And they certainly did not do it by referring to their women as "bitches," dancing like they have no morals, and killing their brethren for their shoes or because they looked at them the wrong way. They did it through hard work, taking care of their own, standing up to their enemies, and demanding the fruits of their labor. In other words, they did it by being adults. By living in debauchery, greed, hatred, and above all, indifference, you bring shame to those who works hard to bring you glory. You fulfill the prophecies of those who deemed us subhuman. Therefore, for the sake of your communities, your country, and yourselves, don't undo the efforts that were created so that you can drink from any fountain you want, go to any school you want, sleep in any hotel you want, and vote anytime you want. It is time wake up and fix all that is broken in our communities.

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