“If someone calls you boy or a nigger, do not react. I will handle it. It’s important that you remember that.”
This is what my mother told me each time we went down to Pamplin, Virginia (a 12-minute drive from Appomattox). We made the trip down to Pamplin for the funerals of my mother’s maternal and paternal grandparents and family reunions. My earliest recollection of hearing this was age 6. It was an important reminder (she felt) to share with my brother and me. We grew up in New York and were relatively sheltered from being spoken to like that. I don’t remember ever being verbally disrespected or discriminated against while in that area — or least 6–12 year old me doesn’t recall. But my mother had spent many summers there in her youth (just two decades prior) and I assume she spoke from a place of having had those experiences.
It was also an important warning because the hotel where we always stayed was in Appomattox, and across the street was a lodge that flew the confederate flag. Appomattox is where the Confederacy (Robert E Lee) surrendered to the Union (Ulysses S Grant); “heritage” and “pride” are what I later understood to be as factors for why the flag still flew in the mid 1990s.
As Jeff Sessions was recently confirmed as Attorney General (despite his track record precluding him from prior appointments and a strongly worded letter from Coretta Scott King), I am reminded the time to share those warnings with a younger generation are likely still necessary. Trump has passed an executive order — the same day as Sessions’ swearing in — geared towards prosecuting those who “resist arrest.” I don’t believe this administration is acting in good faith and do wonder if history will repeat itself in the most cruel way.
Part of a 28-day series of reflections, stories and feelings for Black History Month 2017. Read all parts (here).