Published on February 26th, 20130
Dr. Ada Fisher: When We Were Colored
During this my 65th year of being Black, Black History Month is a time to remember from whence we came, what we went through, what we have achieved and where our promise lies. My mother used to leave me exasperated referring to us as” Colored” People; That is until I found my birth certificate and appreciated that I was listed as “Colored”. During my time we have gone in the popular vernacular from niggras to colored to negroes to Negroes to Black to Afro-Americans to African Americans and back to Black again.
NWA, a popular group, wants to regress us further. Comics think nothing of using the ‘N’ word gratuitously rather than get us to laugh at the humor in our lives. Growing up “Colored” in Durham, NC in the south, it was unacceptable for kids not to go to school, or not to read, or not to behave. We all were taught and appreciated that for the masses, education would allow us to make a way out of no way. No one owed us anything; it was up to us to get and fight for what we wanted.
Parents, regardless of their socio-economic status, took a certain pride in having children who defied the stereotypes placed on us. For our families were our safety nets and our most important institutions. On my block, most of the children were born within a marriage. Every home with a child had a father in that house who worked everyday; taking whatever pay was offered to help his family find its way. The Historically Black Colleges were an anchor and stimulator of our cultural and intellectual heritage. The Black Colleges sponsored band festivals, summer science and math programs, sports meets, homecoming parades, and unparalleled lyceum series bringing in the Joffre Ballet; or an opera singer such as Mattilda Dobbs of the Atlanta, GA. Dobbs and higher educational opportunities denied us by white institutions were made possible through the Black Colleges.
Prior to the sixties we rarely strayed to the white side of town or frequented downtown unless we had businesses there; not because we were afraid, but because with few exceptions we had most of what we needed within the confines of our own community. There were painters, carpenters, plumbers, mechanics, cabs, a dry cleaners, a postal substation with likely the first black postmistress in Mrs. Bernice H. Ingram, a newspaper with “The Truth Unbridled”,a library, about six doctors, several dentists, our own financial institutions and so much more.
My father would say about utilizing segregated businesses-“you don’t pay a man who segregates you to then serve you.” The church was our rock, and from the church my father assumed (The White Rock Baptist Church) had come the local library, public health services in the minority community, the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, community recreation programs, worker organization efforts, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and so much more to engage citizens on all levels. International relationships were there for those engaged in Africa or with an Asa T. Spaulding, Sr. of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance company’s sponsorship of George Allen from the Agency for International Development.
Reminiscing with my fellow baby boomers, it is not uncommon to hear folks say in many ways we were better off during segregated times than we are now — Integration stripped away a history which was the base of our foundation as well as that for this nation. We were required to assimilate while others have taken our knowledge as their own. Similarly, we watch as our kids don’t appreciate the relevance of personal liberty which coloreds had as important to our well-being and survival.
Blacks were pivotal in building the US Capitol: laying out the streets of Washington, DC via Benjamin Banneker as well as building a clock to keep us on time; being the model for the Statue of Liberty given to the nation in recognition of the end of slavery (not as a beacon for immigrants); establishing the Republican Party; fostering the economy of the south and many of the inventions of the industrial revolution as well as through the work of Charles Drew showing us that blood can be transfused from one person to another across ethnic lines making us all brothers under the skin.