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COLUMN — Growing up Black in Charlotte County

“Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting into what I call good trouble, necessary trouble.”

This was written by the Honorable John Lewis, congressman, Civil Rights activist, and a beloved human being. His dedication to the evolvement of humanity exemplified courageously that we all must “stand up, speak up and speak out” about the injustices of systemic racism and Civil Rights. He further stated, “we must say something when something is not right.”

The pain, shame, name calling and that “get over it attitude“ is still very pervasive in those members of the white community who have not lived the “Black” experience, and they tell you “enough already,” or they say, “Move on” because of their own ignorance and insensitivity to the experiences and feelings of Black people in this country. How do you “get over it” or “move on” after 401 years of white supremacy and systemic racism?

To me, the pain, the shame, and the downright inhumane treatment of those of us who are Black necessitate that we share our stories at this moment in history. To me, we need to open our mouths and tell it, now.

I, Yemaja Jubilee, aka Ann Deloris Brown, intend to utilize my voice to say something through the power of my pen and my podcast, Growing up Black in Charlotte County. I am “getting into good trouble.”

I am a Black woman and a native of Charlotte County in Saxe, born to Rev. John and Marie Brown. We lived about 3 miles north of the town’s post office in Saxe on Highway 612 on a small farm along with my two brothers, John Ed and Keneth. The other families that lived on that section of 612 were my grandparents, Oscar and Lena Brown; Edgar and Sarah Booker; Berman and Elnora Brown, William and Betty Brooks; Sister Booker and family; William and Rachel Haskins; and Leroy and Anna Haskins. There were no brick homes; in fact, three of the homes were log cabins and had no indoor plumbing. Our white neighbors, all at the end or beginning of the neighborhood, were all large landowners and lived in two-story, white-framed houses. The Haskins were the only Black family that had a two-story, white-framed house. Tucker School, a white-framed, rundown building, which was the school for all the Black children, was on their property.

“Downtown” Saxe had four white-owned businesses: W. H. Crews sold Amoco gas, groceries, and dry goods along with the post office, Moons sold some hardware, groceries, and gas along with John Weston General Store, and one other general merchandise grocery store. Also, there was a train station; the Depot had segregated rooms for its passengers as well separate cars for “colored” riders on the train. Being young, innocent, and naïve, my brothers and I in the beginning of our lives, did not realize, recognize or quite understand the racist signs in Saxe that said, “white only” or “colored,” or those in the other surrounding towns of Drakes Branch, Chase City, Keysville, and South Boston. Nor did we understand having to say, “Yes, Sir” and always calling white people never by their first name, but “Mr.” or “Mrs.” – if you said anything at all. We were not allowed to ask questions: just follow the domestication process that was taking place. Thus, we learned very quickly the norms of racial separation and the boundaries of how our family was to act.

Our family lived in a four-room white-framed house with green trimming and we were taught to cook, clean, and tend to the hogs, cows, and garden. We each had chores before and after school. I had to milk the cows and churn the butter. The school buses did not come to our door. We had to walk a mile to the stop sign when we were in elementary school. We rode in the used school buses, but we often spotted the new, shiny buses that picked up the white kids going the opposite way.

Galilee Elementary School was overcrowded and only had two rooms, and most of the desks were used as well as the rest of the furniture. Mrs. Nanna P. Morton had grades 1-4 packed in one half of the building and Mrs. Mary Dupee had grades 5-7 in the other half. We ate lunch in our seats and we always had a home-cooked meal prepared by Mrs. Robertson. We had outside toilets. Our “library” was a wall about 3 feet wide and 6 feet tall packed with used and sometimes very worn books. The Fun with Dick and Jane were all used for our classes and we never had any books with Black people being depicted as being other than in enslavement. Once more, we were being domesticated in mind, body, and spirit in the ways of structural and systemic racism.

We did, however, have one week – Negro History Week. It was started by Carter G. Woodson in 1937, and it was during this week that when we learned about Black people.

“When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions,” Woodson wrote in his book, “The Miseducation of the American Negro.” “You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it.” During that week, I learned about Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver. My favorite Black people were not in the history books, though. They were the teachers who taught me, and I admired how they carried themselves and went out of their way to ensure we learned. I knew they loved me. Plus, I liked Mrs. Dupee’s clothes and her high-heeled shoes. They were upstanding Black women.

Here are two things that vividly stand out in my mind during this period.

Across the creek from us lived a white family. Their daughter always had what I considered “fancy, new dresses” that she wore all the time. My mother loved those dresses, too, but our family could not afford to buy those dresses new. So, my mother would buy them for $5, and she would wash and starch them and I wore them proudly as if they were spanking, brand new. I was the best dressed “Black girl” in Galilee School – in used dresses worn by a white girl. I had two favorite ones, a pink one with lace-caped sleeves and a white and grey one with drums, trumps, and cymbals.

The other incident was when the Ku Klux Klan rode through our neighborhood.

In our neighborhood, we had a party-line telephone and there was a code that was used by those who had a phone to signal to the other families that the Klan was coming. On that night, I peeped out and I saw these grown men covered in white sheets on their horses. What a sight for my 10-year-old eyes. One that would forever be etched in my mind and cellular memory. My father was very protective and told us to hide. I remember being terrified as well as not understanding what was happening, All I knew was that I felt a sense of danger in the center of my stomach and my heart was beating fast. They rode past our house but preceded to burn a cross across the field on this neighboring white man’s property. Wow! A Burning Cross! Surely God had nothing to do with this. My father did say later he knew who some of those white men were.

Both the turmoil and fear robbed me of my inner innocence that night. But little did I know there was more to come. This was, I now know, a move to tame us, to imprint our minds and use fear to intimidate and keep us in our place. It was part of a grand plan of “systemic racism.”

When I reflect upon these early childhood memories now, I am so grateful for the opportunity to write about my experiences because I am a part of the solution to enlighten white Americans about being Black in America because Black Lives do Matter. I am Yemaja Jubilee and I grew up Black in Charlotte County.

To be continued…

Yemaja Jubilee is a poet, author, inspirational speaker, creative consultant, and TV/radio personality.