This article is appropriate given everything that is occuring in Ferguson, Mo.
My father was an African Methodist Minister and in 1960 he was assigned to pastor St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I was six years old when we moved to Chattanooga. We lived in Chattanooga from November 1960 to November of 1965. These were very volatile years. Historic years in terms of change and perhaps the most exciting time in 20th century you were not only an African-American, but an American. In November 1965, My father was assigned as Pastor of Asbury Chapel AME Church in Louisville, Kentucky. I was able to see the world of segregation in Chattanooga and to see a totally different picture of open housing, white flight from neighborhoods, and open enrollment schooling in Louisville, Kentucky. Two contrasting situations. It was literally a tale of two cities.
I grew up as a child in the black church, specifically during the civil rights movement, I was born at the dawn of the freedom march movement in 1954. This enabled me to get a good view of the old; segregation, and the new; integration, open housing, the opening up of entertainment facilities that were at the time exclusively white. I remember when we were unable to go the the Martin Theater located in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee. There was a black theater reserved for African- Americans in the black business district, called ninth street. My father being a local minister did not allow us to go to ninth street, because of the night clubs and unwholesome activity that took place there.
I remember seeing the effects of segregation and the restraints that it put on children like myself, but I also witness change and what could happen when doors were finally opened. I remember the church picnics we had and being confined to the “colored” parks; Lincoln Park and Booker T Washington State Park in Chattanooga. I also attended all black Howard Elementary school, which was located on the same premises, Howard Junior High School, and Howard High School. All African Americans who lived on the South side of Chattanooga were assigned to attend Howard High School. If you lived on the North side of Chattanooga and you were African- American you attended Orchard Park Elementary, Orchard Park Junior High and Riverside High School. If you lived on the east end of Chattanooga, you attended Booker T. Washington High School.
The city was totally segregated; school, entertainment facilities, parks and everything. During the time we lived in Chattanooga, much was happening nationally that influenced our lives in Chattanooga. Students at Howard High School and Riverside High School, planned a march in downtown Chattanooga to protest the segregation of entertainment facilities. My father was part of a ministerial alliance of other black ministers, who met with the mayor, police chief and other city officials to stress that the student would be peaceful and not cause trouble and pleaded for their co-operation. The Chattanooga city officials were open to do whatever they could to ensure that the students would not be harmed or arrested.
The Chattanooga experience was not a good one, because of substandard schools and deteriorating neighborhoods. The effects of segregation took its toll on the African- American community and neighborhoods were filled with derelicts and drunks, primarily because they had no hope of obtaining a good job, because of segregation laws. My father’s church and the parsonage was in the heart of this. When we moved in November 1965 I was 11 years old. I had no white friends in Chattanooga. We lived in an African- American neighborhood and attended African American schools.
In November 1965, my father was assigned to pastor Asbury Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Louisville offered better opportunities for African Americans in terms of better schools and better neighborhoods. We lived in the West End of Louisville where neighborhoods were integrated , but they were rapidly becoming all black, as whites begin to move to the suburbs; classic white flight. For the first time in my life from the sixth grade to the 12th grade I attended school with white kids. As a matter of fact, my best friend was white. We played baseball and basketball together and we both attended Shawnee Junior High School and Shawnee High School. Louisville opened my eyes to a different world.
It also opened my eyes to the faults of both races, African- American and white. In 1967 while living in Louisville, riots took place in the west end of Louisville. We lived across the street from Shawnee Park in the church parsonage. There was a skating rink and an amusement park called Fountain Ferry Park, that was literally destroyed one summer evening by a riot, precipitated by African- Americans who lived in the West End. Fountain Ferry was great place to go to swim and to visit the amusement park. Then one summer day it was all destroyed by vandalism from African- Americans. There was already white flight in the neighborhood, but after this, the flight accelerated and in the a span of three years the west end of Louisville became virtually all black.
Louisville was sports town laced with excitement. I remember seeing Muhammad Ali one March day in 1966 on Grand Avenue. A large crowd was around Ali as he lived in the neighborhood. Ali was a Louisville legend and the stance he took by courageously refusing to be inducted into the US Army solidified his position during a time of change. Ali was banned from boxing for three years because of his stance. These were volatile times and much occurred in America. Not just the Civil Right Movement. The escalation of the Viet Nam War. The peace movement. The women’s liberation movement. All of this defined the sixties. It was a time when no one knew what they wanted to be. But we all knew we wanted change.
This was in fact the best time in my life It was a time that I learned about the changing face of America. It was a time when I literally saw the walls of segregation come tumbling down. It was a time when we saw Lyndon B. Johnson author and pass the Civil Right Legislation. It was a time when we saw great leaders assassinated. John F. Kennedy in 1963, Malcolm X in 1965, Martin Luther King in 1968 and Bobby Kennedy in 1968.
These were times of change and it opened doors for many African Americans, unprecedented in American history. My sisters were able to attend and graduate from a predominately white college. I attended and Graduated for East Tennessee State University in 1976, also predominately white. All of this would not have happened if it were not for the sacrifices of the many brave and courageous men and women that laid the foundation for what we now enjoy. I give tribute to the spirit which defines what the the American experience is all about. We live in the greatest country on earth and we should be proud of it.