I've been black a long time. So I can remember Negro History Week when pioneers like Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver, W.E.B. Dubois, Benjamin Banneker and Sojourner Truth graced the bulletin boards of my 1960s classrooms.
I also remember the times back when we were colored.
I remember the road trips to visit the cousins in Detroit. We started unwrapping our wax paper and sampling our fried chicken before we left Illinois.
I recall the distinct aroma of chitlins wafting through the house as I played Mozart on the piano. I remember boys with slick, processed hair in do rags singing doo-wop in the doorways.
Warm evenings were sometimes spent on the front porch playing rock school. You only needed a flight of stairs and a rock hidden in a balled up fist. If you guessed which hand the rock was in you moved up a step.
I looked forward all summer to homemade ice cream. Us four kids jumped at the chance to turn the handle of the metal ice cream maker.
When she wasn't broke and was too tired to do it herself, Mama gave the lady across the street from my grandmother's house $2.00 to straighten my and my sister's hair.
The whole neighborhood looked forward to Sunday nights, because soul singers like the Supremes or the Temptations or Smokey Robinson and The Miracles were going to be on The Ed Sullivan Show.
I remember the days when Detroit could make dreams come true. A boy in my class showed off a letter from Barry Gordy offering him an audition at Motown. I had a crush on Jermaine Jackson. Another boy in my class simply dreamed of working at General Motors.
Any adult, especially grandmothers could correct any child in public. They didn't have to know the child. We were a community. Elders commanded respect.
I remember a summer evening when we were visiting our grandmother. She let my sister Marcia and I to go for a walk with two neighbor girls and their mamas. We skipped along side the mothers in their cotton house dresses. It was so ordinary and yet somehow magical.
You could hear the crickets when we passed the railroad tracks. The lightening bugs showed themselves in Ada Park. We vowed not to let a black cat cross our path. The mamas trailed behind us carrying on with their grown folks' conversation. We four girls giggled and chatted about whatever little girls in the 1960s talked about. I don't remember what was said.
I just remember the thrill of walking about on a dark, warm summer night on the far south side of Chicago in my grandmother's neighborhood.
We were the people that most white people didn't want to sit next to, work with, live near or have their children go to school with. We were the last to be hired and the first to be fired. Too often the police cracked Negro heads first and asked questions later. We were assumed guilty until proven innocent. We had to be twice as good to be good enough.
This was before black was considered beautiful. This was before Stokely Carmichael raised his fist and shocked the nation by shouting, "Black Power!" This was when we were still Negroes, colored for short.
Negro men greeted us politely on our walk. I felt protected and girlish. It wasn't just about me. It was about us as a people. It was about the times. We had a sense of community. We weren't just walking. We were on our way.
But nobody could've imagined what we were stepping into. What we would gain and what we would lose.
Causes April Sinclair Supports
Alameda County Community Food Bank
Wardrobe for Opportunity