I was raised in apartheid Lumberton, North Carolina, Robeson County. I was naive of Confederate statues and flags that championed the defenders of the Confederate States of America. They were present and still are, but I was busy being an adolescent, unconcerned about such adult matters.
I suffered the injustices that they intended: a school with an inferior curriculum; movie theatres in which Coloreds had to sit in the balcony; it was illegal to dine in Belk’s – we could only order take-out.
Over decades, I’ve shredded the brain emptying caused by Euro-centric education. I’ve rapaciously studied IslamoAfro-centric edification and have gained enlightening ideas that have freed me from the psycho-spiritual damage of Caucasian supremacy; consequently, I’ve developed abhorrence for the Confederate flag, statues, and all such symbols that glorify the Holocaust of Enslavement (HOE).
I graduated from J.H. Hayswood High School in 1965. Harriette Hardin was the valedictorian of that last segregated class at the institution, which marked the end of apartheid in Lumberton. My sister Joyce Renee Jones was among the five that desegregated the Caucasian Lumberton High School, an amicable endeavor compared to other municipalities in the South.
Hardin remembers Lumbertonian apartheid with fresh intensity: “The cleaning ladies had to wait on the Colored at Belk’s department store, Weinstein’s, and Fleishman’s. The Colored help had to get us what we needed. I remember the bus station with the Colored and white bathrooms.
We had to sit in the balcony at the Carolina and Riverside Theaters; no two people could ascend or descend the steps simultaneously because they were too narrow.
I live in Harlem where I was born. I periodically visit Lumberton’s New South to see relatives and to maintain my roots. I attended the 50th Anniversary of the 1965 J.H. Hayswood Graduation in 2015; my contempt for Confederacy memorabilia was tested as I was about to enter the Robeson County Courthouse to research family records.
I was confronted by a 110-year old statue of a Confederate soldier, armed with a rifle, guarding the entrance of the court. The south face of the sculpture read: “ERECTED UNDER THE AUSPICES OF / THE UNITED DAUGHTERS OF THE CONFEDERACY/IN LOVING MEMORY OF THE TWO THOUSAND CONFEDERATE SOLDIERS OF ROBESON COUNTY.”
The north side sang: “GLORY GUARDS” dying on “FAME’S ETERNAL CAMPING GROUND.” What is glorious about misguided miscreants who killed and died in the Civil War in which 650 thousands Unionists and Confederates were slaughtered for Southerners’ privilege to buy, sell, own, and dehumanize members of the human family like chattel as if they were shoes and hogs?
I was swarmed with a conundrum of thoughts. “Somebody should blow this #@**# thing up!” I declared silently. No. So, I figured I’d speak out, give a speech about the iniquities of racism; however, I would have been arrested, a sacrifice I wasn’t prepared to make.
I offered a silent prayer in which I petitioned G’d to cure America of her appetite for Caucasian superiority and African inferiority and to destroy the tax-financed, laudatory memories of the Confederacy in all the Lumbertons in America.
I pleaded for justice for the heinous crimes committed by the enslavers, the lynchers, the segregationists of the past, and the current hidden racists cowered in the power structure of Lumberton; they were no better than their forbearers, a supposition validated by the grey-suited sentry.
Yet, healing is possible for the hardest hearted bigots as segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace attested with his apology to African Americans for his trauma-producing actions. I’ll never forget his battle cry against allowing Africans their constitutional rights: “Segregation now. Segregation forever!”
Two years after I meditated at the foot of the Confederate statue , Jerry Stephens, a Robeson County Board of Commissioner in Lumberton, solicited his colleagues to consider whether it was time for the courthouse statue to be removed.
Stephens, an African American, counseled, “Sometime we are going to have a dialogue about how we feel about that statue.” His comments were ignored with silence. Another African American and a so-called “Lumbee
Indian” were among the sealed lips. To be deaf, dumb, and blind in the face of injustice is to support it.
I didn’t use physical force to express dissatisfaction with the infamous statue, but someone did exercised physical discontent. On September 23, somebody committed artistic protest. He or she spray-painted black colorant on three sides of the square base with the inscription, “Love,” “Jesus,” and “Feather for Heather.” The graffitist inserted a cross beside “Jesus” and semi-deleted “Glory,” and “Confederate.”
Subsequently, a Robesonian newspaper editorial advocated for its removal and proposed an ideal residence for it. “We are told informally that the Robeson County Historical Museum, which is just a block or so away, would eagerly take it.”
The commentary avowed that the paramount path toward genuine curing of generational injuries from HOE distresses dormant under the tranquil ambience of tourist-hungry is to remove that toxic symbol of our nation’s division. Abraham Lincoln, haunted by his own xenophobic stresses, said: “A house divided cannot stand.”
Suffering from post-HOE traumatic syndrome and seeking to alleviate its causes, Martin Luther King declared: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” Both men trekked courageous steps up perilous staircases. Their only light was faith energized by action.
Americans must mature beyond juvenile prejudices based on skin color, ethnicity, etc. to acquire authentic hope if we want to pull out of the quagmire in which we are entrapped.
© Educator-Writer Yusef Salaam’s (firstname.lastname@example.org) latest book, “The Devil and Elijah Muhammad” is available at www.xlibris.com.