What is there to say about the violent, deadly events over the last week and the last month? We are allowing hate and fear to triumph over love and respect, and we must find a way to reach common ground, or our existence, as individuals and as a nation, will remain in jeopardy.
I think about the way my mom was raised, imperfect yet with a strong, unwavering core of human decency. My mother was raised on a farm in rural Tennessee during the 1940s and 1950s. Racism, Jim Crow laws and the KKK were all thriving. My mother’s family referred to Brazil nuts that they received in their Christmas stockings as “n-word toes.” It was not said with hatred, it was the standard nickname used in those parts, but it illustrates just how comfortable the locals were with using racist slurs.
Yet my mother’s hometown of Newport also had a black doctor, Dr. Dennis Branch. He became well-known enough that he was on “This is Your Life” and had his obituary published in the New York Times. According to the local newspaper, a documentary is in the works. My mother’s family loved and respected Dr. Branch. He made house calls and was kind to the children when they were ill, unlike some of the older, crotchety white doctors. He even accepted produce in lieu of cash for some families.
When my mother was grown and working in Memphis, she encountered her first direct act of racism. My mother was at a diner having a meal when a black woman came in and set at the counter a few seats down from my mother. The waitress saw her, but blatantly ignored her. She served the white patrons who came in after the black woman. My mother watched this unfold and overheard the waitress tell a customer, “We don’t serve those kind here.”
My mother paid for her food and abruptly left, never to return. When she recounted the story, she often wondered how long that black woman set at the counter, waiting to be served. It bothered my mother, that the woman had not been treated with common decency.
Over the years, I have thought a lot about that woman as well.
So my mother may not have walked in civil rights marches, she may not have been the most vocal person when it came to civil rights, but her small action made a big impression on me.
If we all did our small part, make the choice of human decency when it matters in our daily lives, our world would be a better place.