Author of this blog post, Keisha Lewis, is the Director of Visitor Services at the Center for Civil and Human Rights.
As I arrived at work, busses unloaded anxious middle school students eager to begin their field trip. As each student stepped off the bus I reflected on my time in middle school and the friends I made along the way. I thought about my social media connections/friends and the diversity in race and gender among these groups. I contemplate being in the high school marching band, making so many friends and not feeling alienated by my race or gender. My mind drifted to how I was able to obtain these relationships (meanwhile the kids at The Center are freely talking to one another as they enter the building). After a morning Operations meeting, I began a morning walkthrough of The Center. I stopped at The Brown vs. Board of Education exhibit and thought of my mother’s and courage in the 1960’s as the “Movement Catches Fire”.
I reminisced back to when I was 13 years old, sitting on my mother’s bed after school and asked a question that would spark my curiosity for years. “What was it like for you in school, mom?” She told my sister and I that school was fun and that she learned a lot up until 1967 – her Junior Year in High School. During that year, she was pulled into a room with about 13-14 other students at Lemon Street High, the only school Black youth could attend up until then. Adults briefed the students on integrating with white students at a new High School in Cobb County (which is ironically my Alma Mater).
Brown vs. Board of Education changed her life forever, as well as mine. The day the students were integrated, she was taunted as she stepped out of the van delivering them to this unfamiliar school filled with unfamiliar faces. She was called a “Nigger”, spat on and a sign was taped to her back without her knowledge that read, “Since when do Niggers have red hair?” I could go on and on but for sake of time I will leave it at that. Although she was horrified by these experiences, she continued to hustle up her pride and return to school every day for months.
For years, it unsettled me that I did not understand the full story of why people were so hateful to her so when I made it to College my journey began. My obsession with knowing more about the American Civil Rights Movement led me to earn a B.A. in History with a concentration in Civil Rights and a focus in Brown vs. Board of Education/integration. None of this could happen before literally taking a walk down memory lane with my mother as she walked me through what remained of Lemon Street High School. My mother recounted how black businesses in Marietta thrived before desegregation and how she didn’t finish high school because it became too hard to take. Did I mention that the bus she rode to school would not return them home some days so that black students on her street were forced to walk many miles home?
Many people ask me “Why history? It’s so boring.” My answer is now: this “boring” history was my mother’s reality. Our mother’s story transformed me and my sister’s perspective on history. My sister Mia, determined to teach and obtain the highest level within the Education field, earned her Doctoral degree in Education. I am currently the Director of Visitor Services at the Center for Civil and Human Rights. You never know how someone else’s story can impact your life! I believe in celebrating the unsung pioneers of a movement and inspiring others to see how they can make a difference.
Director of Visitor Services