Somewhere in High Point, in the mind of a 40 year old black man, is the angry face of a white barber spitting hatred. Worse for me, in that man's mind is the face of a young blond white boy - me - sitting in a chair he could not sit in, getting his hair cut by hatred.
You tell me. How long?
Not long. Only fifty years since the Sit-Ins began at the Woolworth's in Greensboro, NC. Last year, about this time, I posted this diary two days before Inauguration Day, and it got buried. On this important anniversary, I thought it might be worth posting again.
Read on, and if you're ever in Greensboro, please visit the brand new International Civil Rights Center & Museum, housed in that same Woolworth's.
(First published 1/19/09)
I am not equal to the task of addressing what tomorrow means to a Southern white man. I grew up in the South. I grew up in Guilford County, North Carolina. So did my mother. Mom grew up a few miles from the Woolworth where, in 1960, when my mom was 11, four young men from North Carolina A&T State University sat down and asked only to be allowed to eat their food.
Think about that. 1960. Ten years before I was born. Two years before the birth of the black man who will, tomorrow, take the office of President of the United States.
How long? Not long.
In the summer of 1980, my family moved back to Guilford County, and I accompanied my mother on her first trip into downtown High Point. She was going shopping at the Belk's which, at the time, was still located downtown. I needed a haircut, so she dropped me off at a barber shop located just around the corner from Belk's, gave me ten dollars, and told me to meet her with the change in the store when I was done.
The man cutting my hair was kind. He and the other man talked to me very nicely, about what I cannot recall, but I remember thinking they were quite friendly. Then, a young black boy, probably about 10 or 11, opened the door. I felt the temperature in the barbershop drop by about 20 degrees, and this kindly older man who was cutting my hair began to shout. "No! Now, you get on out of here! We don't CUT your kind of hair here. Now get!" I remember the look on the boy's face. I remember he looked right in my eyes, and then looked down and left the shop.
I knew then that something deeply unfair had just happened. I didn't talk to the man after that. I paid him when he was done, and then I ran to find my mom to tell her what had happened. And my mom, raised in Greensboro, raised in one of the crucibles of the Civil Rights movement, calmly told me I was right, and that we would never go to that barbershop again.
How long? Not long.
It has not been that long.
Tomorrow, America takes a huge step forward. This Southerner is proud of my country; proud that my state, which brutally repressed its poor whites and blacks alike in 1898, was the state to clinch the nomination for Barack Obama. I am proud that my state contributed its electoral votes to raise him to the Presidency.
But I also know that we have far to go. How long will it be until Dr. King's dream is fulfilled? Those who tell you it is now complete are kidding you and themselves. We have come far, but not so far that we can't look around and see the traces of the past. Not so far that we can't look back down the road we have come and see the same faces we now see around us.
Somewhere in High Point, in the mind of a 40 year old black man, is the angry face of a white barber spitting hatred. Worse for me, in that man's mind is the face of a young blond white boy, sitting in a chair he could not sit in, getting his hair cut by hatred.
Until that memory, and all memories like it, are only read about in history books, we have not gotten there. Until poverty has been eradicated, and hunger laid to rest, we have not gotten there. But, like Dr. King, we can hope that it will not be long. And tomorrow, just shy of 49 years to the day after the Greensboro Four sat down and ordered coffee, one measure of the progress we have made will be abundantly clear to all the world.
Tomorrow we celebrate how far we have come, and look to see how far we have yet to go. But I have no doubt that we are getting there.
God Bless America.
Update: The Rec list!? Wow. Thank you for allowing me to bend the rules, and for reading.