Something Within

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“I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” – Harriet Tubmanblack-ladies

“I’ve got the perfect place for lunch today,” my editor beamed.

The lines on his bearded face deepened with excitement. Standing up from his desk, he stared out of the large window that surrounded the newsroom and stretched his long limbs with anticipation. In sight was a picturesque view of the harbor, a few sail boats were moving inland.

It was lunchtime in my small town; I was an intern reporter at the local paper. Around noon, the downtown streets were flooded with locals taking advantage of the neighborhood eateries.

“Surely you’ve eaten there before, Cece?” he asked with the sweetest southern drawl.

“No sir, can’t say that I have.”

It was my first week on the job, and as a way to welcome me to the team, my boss offered to take me to lunch at a well known café on Main Street.*

I’ve been in that town all my life, and I’ve never once eaten downtown, nor had the inclination to do so.  Actually, at that point in my life, I couldn’t recall if I ever saw anyone that looked like me eat at a downtown restaurant. As a child, I would accompany my mother to Main Street to pay a few bills and shop — but never eat.

The mere thought frightened me.

Was this how my great grandmother and grandmother felt under the unforgiving sun of the Jim Crow south?

Was this how the Jena 6 felt when they saw the noose hung from the tree?

Was this how Recy Taylor felt when she was kidnapped by her rapists?

“Well, you’re going to love it,” he assured me. “They have the best fried chicken salad, ever.”

We gathered our belongings and headed out the door; me, however, with anxiety and fear in tow.

With each step, I felt even more nauseous.

Was I really going to eat there?

When I was a teenager, the only African-Americans I saw entering restaurants were going in through the backdoor as hired help, not as customers.  

Not to say that we didn’t. I personally never saw any. So I had no point of reference. I didn’t know what to expect.

We entered the building.

“There’s such-and-so, he’s a judge, and over there is such-and-so, she’s a lawyer,” my boss said in a hushed tone.

I saw them but what piqued my interest was the well dressed African-American man surrounded by colleagues at a table in the center of the room.

“Who’s that?” I spoke softly, tilting my head in the gentlemen’s direction.

My boss chuckled quietly because he understood why I asked the question.

“That’s such-and-so, he’s a city councilman.

As we ordered and awaited our food, the councilman and his party stood to exit the room. My boss waved slightly which prompted them to stop by our table. They exchanged pleasantries.

“…and allow me to introduce you to, Cece Harbor, our newest reporter,” he continued. I shook hands with about six people. The councilman squeezed my hand a little.

I felt my anxiety slowly disappear.

I looked around the restaurant and saw that we had a small captive audience, including a few from the kitchen staff peering around the corner. I nodded at them in respect.

As we ate our lunches, I kept going over and over in my mind that day the cause for such fear. The truth is I was taught, consciously and subconsciously that there was a limit to what freedoms I should enjoy; not that I wasn’t deserving… but limits, no less.

Sadly there are those of us that still carry certain shackles in our minds…and so we choose to stay within the confines of the familiar. And then there are those of us who in spite of fear, anxiety and uncertainty still march forward no matter how hard the walk, no matter what the cost because we believe that we know that there’s something more…and that we do deserve better.

Isn’t that how change begins?

Oh and you know what? – My editor was right, the chicken salad was delicious.

*Name changed

21 thoughts on “Something Within

  1. brilliant! Keep walking… I’m moved to tears…please, keep walking and hold your head high… freedom is the ocean of hope that you are gracefully living. There’s no treading water here! keep walking… bless you!

  2. What a powerful and inspiring story. It doesn’t matter the colour of our skin, the depth of our pockets or our faith, we all carry certain shackles — and must inspire eachother to set them free.

    Thanks for this Cece. It’s beautiful.

  3. Thank you so much for this story, your courage in sharing it. My father grew up in Jim Crow’s Arkansas. He was a member of the national guard that was ordered by the governor to keep the students out of central high school … the same battalion that was federalized and ordered back to escort the students into the school days later. His portion of the battalion stayed in a warehouse nearby and weren’t on site at the school.. As late as 1973, when I visited his hometown as a child, evidence of Jim Crow’s reign was still everywhere. I’d grown up in California where racism was much more covert. Images from that visit to small-town Arkansas have stayed with me — in particular, a siren atop a phone pole that had once signaled curfew for African American residents. For many years, I felt a sense of generational shame about this. Awhile back, on PBS, I believe, a radio program aired. In it, one of the hometown’s residents spoke about the fact that her African American nanny had left her own children every day to care for her. As a child, she’d simply accepted that this was the way things were. Later, she realized the huge toll exacted on the woman who had been her nanny.

    Sorry for the long comment. This is a topic that I’ve written about and studied but have not lived, as you did.

    Thank you again. It’s so important.

    • That was powerful. You know this happened when I was 21 and in the summer of 1996. It’s amazing, it could have happened in ’66 or ’56 or even ’86…and even now. The prisons of our minds are a powerful thing.

  4. Viola Lilac Indue

    What a wonderful post…I can certainly relate…I have “shackles in my mind” and so I choose to stay within my comfort zone, which can be very confining. But I find that I am marching forward now, ever slowly, to bring about change in my life, because I do deserve better. I’m still a work in progress. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. There’s a lot here for me to think about.

  5. I love your post. I have shackles in my mind, admittedly. I once did an illustration of Harriet Tubman with her words, “Keep Going” emblazoned across it. It was a little reminder to keep walking, keep transcending what is holding me back in life.

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