My own Ruby Bridges

You do know who Ruby Bridges is right? I hope you do. But just in case you don’t, Ruby was a young girl who became famous for being smart- essentially. She also happened to be black in 1960s Louisiana. When Ruby was in kindergarten, she, along with all the other students in her all black school (which happened to be an extremely long way away from home) were given a test. Passing the test meant that you were smart enough to go to the all white school (which was a mere block or two from home). Ruby being smart, was of course accepted into the white school. But being smart enough to go to the all white school was just the first prerequisite. Ruby’s parents would also need to agree that she could integrate (go to the all white school). Even after they agreed, going to the all white school would not be easy. She was escorted everyday to and from by men in the National Guard and she spent the entirety of her first grade year as the only student in her classroom. (Integration may have come to the Louisiana school, but it had not reached all the way to its classrooms.) Even if the school had opted to include Ruby in classes with white people, little to no integration would transpire. A great majority of the white students had been pulled from the school by way of protesting integration or avoiding the protesting and protesters. Ruby Bridges is a national hero because she went to school in spite of the hate and animosity shown her when she integrated or infiltrated the all white school.

The little girl in the picture is not Ruby Bridges, though. That little girl is Cynthia Montague and she is my cousin. Like me (and almost every other family member on my mom’s side of this gnarled and twisted tree of mine), Cynthia grew up in Stafford. Unlike me, Cynthia, my Nana and anyone else living prior to or during this time didn’t get to go to school in Stafford.

They were bused to another school in another town/city. Another county. I moan and complain if I have to go to Kroger- which is slightly more across the street- instead of the Martins; which is across the street but a much shorter distance. And these kids; if they wanted an education had to go into the next city or town.

My Nana once said, “they [she and her friends] didn’t understand why they couldn’t go to the school that was closer to their homes or why they had to go to school way out in Fredericksburg [when they were young children]”. I feel this sentiment was probably echoed throughout the black community of Stafford County.

And then, along came Cynthia. A little girl who was doing great things- though she may not have known it at the time. I am not sure if Cynthia was selected because of her intelligence- like Ruby or if there was some other selection process was involved. What I do know is this- Cynthia and her sister were the first black kids to integrate into Stafford County Schools.

Why was I not taught this as a kid in Stafford? I am embarrassed to say that I never knew this growing up; I was never taught this in school; my parents never mentioned it.It wasn’t until I attended the Discussion Panel (See The Other Side Of the Door to find out what that’s all about) that I learned this awesome piece of family history. I didn’t even realize or understand the enormity of what I didn’t know. I am not sure what the stigma is of teaching people about the awesome things black people have done, but I  vow to overcome it. I am going to make sure my own children know the greatness that they come from. I am more encouraged now than ever to keep on digging through the records, hanging out in dusty basements and begging the living to share the stories of life before me. There is purpose in what I am doing.

As I have delved deeper and deeper into genealogy and family history, I have had the great privilege of discovering several hidden gems hanging out in my tree. Some of those gems only precious to me and others honored by many. Cynthia is one gem that should be honored and celebrated by many. I am proud to come from the kind of stock that produced her.

Have you discovered an unsung hero in your family tree or possibly in a tree you have been working on? I would love to hear all about your discoveries- how did you react when you made them? I was in awe and still am. I hope in the very near future, I will be able to sit down and talk with her and interview her for the family to come long past the time she lived this life.

So, leave me a comment and a like and as always, please share with your friends and family! Thank you so much for visiting! Come back soon, ya hear?

For more information on Ruby Bridges, please visit http://www.ducksters.com/history/civil_rights/ruby_bridges.php

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The Other Side of the Door

I am not sure if you have heard or not, but there is this great, empowering and fantastic movie in theaters right now. This movie takes place during the 1960s and is about the first woman scientist with NASA and how she got there. This woman also happens to be black. Just in case you were unaware, the 1960s weren’t the most friendly of times for black women, as this was a time when white people (in general) were not the most social group of people when it came to interacting with black people. The movie goes on to depict the hardships the woman had to endure in order to get her education and achieve her goals. These hardships included having to learn outside of the classroom and on the other side of the door. As you might have guessed, the movie I am speaking of is Hidden Figures. It truly is an extremely motivating story for woman and girls everywhere. And the best part is, it really happened.

Last night, I had the great pleasure of going to my home town, where the local NAACP branch hosted “Hidden Figures a Panel Discussion”, where the panelists shared their stories of life in the community during the post-World War II era through the Civil Rights and beyond. To say I was excited, was a complete understatement. Did I mention my cousin and my Nana were panelists? Oh yeah. I am determined to get my stories one way or another, I swear. (If that confuses you, you’re gonna have to read back a few entries to understand, luv.) Anyway. I drove an hour and a half for this and can I just say that I was more than slightly disappointed at the lack of ‘young people’ turn out, followed closely by my irritation that the ‘black’ turn out was not as large as I thought it should have been.

An hour and a half.

When we (my children were actually willing tag alongs for this adventure) arrived, the discussion had already began. The room was packed. I carefully wove my way from one side of the room to the other, where an empty seat awaited me and my mom’s lap awaited the baby. There was also a door right next to where my family (all gazillion of them) had chosen to sit. As babies tend to do, mine began to get fussy. I had only heard the panel answer one question. My mom quickly gave the beloved baby up to me and I found myself promptly escorted to the other other side of the door. At first, they left the door ajar and I could vaguely make out the questions and what seemed to be mumbles of reply.

I was embarrassed and frustrated that my baby, who has gone to theaters and museums and been so well behaved, was being fussy and a distraction to everyone. I was frustrated because I had been so looking forward to this experience and the stories being shared and I was being shut out and unable to learn from these elders and pillars of my community. The more frustrated and discombobulated I became, the fussier he got. I was trying every trick in my mommy arsenal and nothing worked.

Just as I had resigned myself to the fact that I would be hearing all these great stories from the back vestibule area, they SHUT the door. What had barely been audible before was downright stifled now. I was fuming. They had not said anything about not bringing children. We were in a library meeting room for crying out loud! By this time, I not only needed to calm the baby down, but I had to calm myself down as well. I slipped out the door labeled “Employees Only”. Outside, the presence of another mother of a young baby greeted me. I looked up at the door from which I had just come and was struck by an incredible irony…

Here we all were there to learn about the empowering lessons the panelists had to share from an era when I would not have been able to drink from the same fountain as my best friend and the two of us had been quietly shepherded out. Mind you- we were not asked. And as if that were not ironic enough, we exited through a side door, designated for a specific group of people.

The enormity of what I felt is indescribable. I did not experience any real segregation and yet I could slightly begin to know what the branches before me had felt or experienced.

I finally managed to get the baby to go to sleep and stepped back inside. I didn’t dare go to the door and let myself back into the room. N0, I sat in the chair and strained to hear the musings and reminiscing going on on the other side of the door. It wasn’t until I coughed that the door was opened and I was asked if I would like to come back in, as if I had voluntarily left in the first place. I caught the tail end of the Q&A, but honestly, I couldn’t tell you what was said, so angry was I still. And who could I direct my anger toward? Nobody. That’s who.

Just like the characters in the aforementioned movie; just like the people on the panel; just like thousands of slaves who were here long before you and I were twinkles in someone’s eye- there was an anger that simmered just beneath the surface with no real release insight.

And so here is my take away… We have to do better. All of us. I am not saying that we all have to agree one hundred percent of the time or that we even have to like each other all the time. I am simply saying that if we are not conscious of the injustice that has come before us- even when we are in the business of educating others to those very biases- then we are doomed to repeat them. And honestly, do we really want to live in that world?

I don’t have any catchy questions to ask you guys today and I apologize for that. Thank you for reading- especially if you read all the way through to the end. Now go forth and do what you can, where you can (no matter what is, be it befriending the kid with no friends or standing up to a bully or getting involved in your local government) to not repeat the iniquities of our past- no matter what they may be.

Robbing or Rocking the Cradle?

Just before Christmas, I found a few quiet minutes to myself and I told myself I was going to spend those very precious moments catching up on emails and being a responsible adult. Yeah right. I don’t think I even passed go as I headed straight to where else? Facebook. On this particular day, I didn’t even get to become engrossed in the lives of my friends. No, I came across Mick Jagger. More specifically, an article announcing the birth of Jagger’s eighth child demanded to be read. If you missed it, let me give you the low down… Good ‘ol Mick, who was seventy-three and his girlfriend (wife?), who was thirty, welcomed a bouncing bundle of joy to this world. No need to adjust your screens or search for your glasses- you read that right. Mick is seventy-three with a new born. This, however, is not what gave me pause… His new baby is two years younger than his GREAT GRAND CHILD.

This disturbed me. I was baffled. And not for the reasons you would automatically assume, either. I wanted to know what this tree would look like. I wanted to know if others had branches like this.I wondered how his grown children and grand children felt about this new addition. I wanted to know if they welcomed the girlfriend/wife with open arms… I mean she is younger than them, afterall…

Faster than you can say supercalifragilisticexpialadocious, I had posted the article to my favorite genealogy sites and invited my dearest friends near and far to sound off.

I remember asking if people felt this kind of relationship was more prevalent then (1800s and earlier) or now (1900s and later). I wanted to know why a young woman would submit to such an older husband. Most of the answers I got were things like financial support or pensions that would outlast the old man’s breathing days. In fact, I learned that the US was still paying out pension plans from the CIVIL WAR. Almost, no one, however, said love and without realizing it, I had begun to tell my own story…

I have been the younger woman. I have been the girlfriend younger than the children. I have had to navigate the very minefields I was questioning. And I did it all for love. Nothing more, nothing less.

But before I could explore this tangent that I found myself on, the dead began tugging at me. I couldn’t remember their names (and honestly I never went and looked for them), but I could remember their story (which resembled Mick Jagger’s more than my own)… For months I tried to find the parents of three children, of whom the census told me, belonged to parents who would have been in their late fifties and early sixties at the birth of the first child in question and nearly seventy at the birth of the youngest questionable child. Prior to reading this article, I was convinced that these children were grandchildren and that it was my duty to find their elusive parents. I asked family members if they had found the missing parents or any proof that the parents had once existed or if they might even be children of one of the children still on record as living at home. I remember during these quests, that these dead people in particular were eerily quiet. Eventually, I let it go, convinced that they would talk when they were good and ready and not a moment before.

It seemed as if Mick Jagger made them want to talk. They didn’t say much, but they did make me question if I had been chasing a story that wasn’t even there. They left me wondering how often we as family historians travel down the rabbit hole only to discover that we created the rabbit hole to begin with and there was nothing really there. How often do we overlook the facts right in front of our faces because they are to outrageous?

Reading the Mick Jagger article gave me reason to reevaluate the authenticity of the stories I am telling, even though I am quite sure that was not the author’s intent to do so. So, congratulations to Mick and his lady and thank you for reminding me that sometimes I only need to tell the story that is there and sometimes I can look at my own life and gain an understanding of the thoughts and feelings of my ancestors in days gone by.

I would love to know if you have ever read something completely unrelated to your genealogy work, but that made you think of ways you could improve your genealogy/family history work. What did you read and how did it enhance the way you do what you do? Thanks for sharing and please give this a like and a share!

See you next time!