By Alivia Wenze, Senior
February is one of my favorite months of the year because I get to celebrate my heritage and culture through Black History Month. This month is a time to reflect on the history of African-Americans and learn something new about African-American history and culture.
As an African-American female, it is essential to me that I know the history of my ancestors in order for me to improve and continue their legacy. When I think about the past, I think about the countless years of hardship my ancestors had to endure, so I could be free. I think of my ancestors as my heroes. They went through the physical, verbal, and emotional abuse so that future generations could be free.
Before the Jim Crow Laws were dismantled, African-Americans were treated as 2nd class citizens. For example, we were not allowed to live in certain neighborhoods, we were paid much lower wages than our white counterparts, and we had little to no rights. For many years America ruled that “races are separate but equal,” but we as African-Americans were treated as anything but equal. If not for our relentless protesting and demands for change, nothing would have improved. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” asserted: “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."
Knowing the history of African-Americans is important, but the traditions of the culture are just as significant. One of the main the essential parts of my culture is our delicious soul food, such as fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, rice, yams, and of course some cornbread. Just thinking about this food makes my mouth water. Another central part of my culture is going to church on Sundays and having a family meal after church. Or having a good family cookout where we gather together to share a meal, talk, laugh, and play some games like cards and dominoes.
Since I was young, my family has always taught me that it is necessary that I know my past, so history doesn't repeat itself. I grew up listening to my grandparents, great-aunts, great-uncles, and old family friends tell me stories about what they went through in the past because of the color of their skin. I am grateful to say that my grandmother has been living on this earth for 81 years and she has been through it all. I interviewed my 81-year-old grandmother to honor Black History Month and gain knowledge about her experience living in a time that treated African-Americans differently than in today’s society. The following are the answers to my interview with my grandmother, Mrs. Alberta Wenze:
1. What does it mean to you to be an African-American woman?
It means so much to me to be an African-American woman. I have been very blessed to have a great family that believes in love and education.
2. How was it growing up in the Deep South as an African-American in the early to mid-20th century?
I grew up in a family that was protective of me. My parents shielded me the best they could on what was going on at the time. However, I knew how blacks were being mistreated in school. It bothered me when I would go out to public places, and everything was segregated. The restrooms, the water fountains, and the restaurants were all segregated; it would be one for the “whites” and one for the “coloreds.” I remember if my family and I wanted to eat out somewhere, we would have to go to the backside of the restaurant to be served. Even though the society that I lived in at the time was full of hatred, I grew up with a lot of love. I was indeed blessed that I never was mistreated or called out my name, which was rare considering it was the Deep South.
3. What is one of the biggest challenges you faced growing up?
One of the biggest challenges that I dealt with growing up was not having the freedom to go to certain places I wanted to go. At that time blacks were limited to the areas that we go to outside of our community. For example, there was only one movie theater that “colored” people could go to in my neighborhood. Fortunately at the time, since everything was segregated and restricted, black people started creating their own community. So, in the community, we had a movie theatre, restaurants, barber shop, stores, etc. So there was not a need to have to leave out of our neighborhood.
4. Did you or anyone in our family participate in the Civil Rights Movement?
My mother-in-law, your great grandmother, was there to march in Selma, Alabama. She was there when “Bloody Sunday” happened. I recalled her telling me when the people were crossing the bridge that is when everything went left. I remember her mentioning that she saw a young lawyer who called the dogs on them. She actually got in a car right before the bridge because she did not have a good feeling about what would be waiting on the other side of the bridge. She recalled that there was just so much blood and people were trying to run as fast as they could.
5. In your opinion, do you think African-Americans as a group in today’s society has settled for where we are now?
I think as a group we can go even further to make a change, but I do feel that we have come to a stand-still. Right now it does not feel like we're improving and growing that way that we should be. I think “The Dream” Dr. King once had is gone. Meaning that as a society we are going backwards instead of forward history is starting to repeat itself. It is urgent as a society that we continue to reform the issues that are going on in today’s world to prevent further regression.