Monday, June 29, 2015

MLK: Prepared To Lead

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., earned every accolade bestowed upon him. If we learn nothing else from his life, we need to learn the difference between true achievement and unworthy praise.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Boston University
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Boston University
1959 (BU Photo Services)
Exceptional performances in education and leadership are not as highly emphasized and, seemingly, not as highly valued today as they were a few decades ago. Martin Luther King's education, credentials and awards demonstrate preparation for leadership of the Civil Rights Movement. Could a lack of emphasis on excellence be affecting leadership in America?

When every kid on the team gets a trophy, what is the value of the trophies? Zero.

So, what is the value in awarding a prize for the sake of preserving feelings? Zero.

We might as well face it. Most of us are not prepared for the type of leadership it takes to change the world. There seems to be a growing attitude of automatic acceptance of personal ordinariness today, complacence, "Oh, whatever." And people, including children, seem to be growing up willing to accept the notion of "mediocre" as normal, worthy of a trophy for simply signing up for the team--no field time and certainly no outstanding play, which is not just a sports theory. This applies to all areas of once-competitive activity. 

However, unsubstantiated accomplishments of unworthily-trophied team members can be smashed in a second when faced with the dedication of real performance and competition; for instance, a Spelling Bee smack down! Unfortunately, many students avoid participation if they are required to participate in strenuous preparation. 

"Oh, well, whatever." Give 'em a trophy anyway for signing up.

Unearned trophies promote the feeling that doing better makes no more difference than doing worse. Why try harder, when there will be a trophy at the end for simply putting on the uniform or signing on the dotted line. So what if no effort goes into it? Could that be a cause of personal low expectations? At the end of the game, only the player really knows if he or she played his or her best game--the moment of realization.
  • Do people know if they played their best game? 
  • If they know they did not play their best game, what is their attitude? 
  • Do they pretend they did their best? 
  • Knowing they didn't do their best, do they make a plan to improve?
  • Or do they dismiss the whole thing with, Oh, whatever."

Lyndon Johnson & Martin Luther King
Lyndon Johnson
& Martin Luther King
Dr. Martin Luther King prepared for leadership. He was more than a gifted speaker; he was a highly intelligent man, proof of which showed in his education, academic credentials and power of persuasion. It took more than a notion to convince those in power to support his civil rights efforts. All said and done: He was a hard worker. I'd put money on that.

"There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right." MLK

The kind of conviction espoused in the quote above requires preparation of the ultimate kind. We might as well face it. Most of us are not prepared for the type of leadership it takes to change the world. Changing the world means getting things done and being good at those things, striving for excellence, whether achieving excellence or not, not being discouraged, continuing to move forward with conviction toward a goal. 

Early in his education, King skipped both ninth and twelfth grades, tested his way out of high school at age 15 before graduation. He entered Morehouse College, where he earned Bachelor's degree in sociology. He received a Bachelor of Divinity from Cozier College, while also studying at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1955, three months before Rosa Parks sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and hurled King into national prominence, he received his Doctorate of Philosophy in Systematic Theology from Boston University.

Preparation takes hard work.

Honorary Degrees from U.S. and international colleges and universities. During his lifetime and posthumously, Dr. King also was awarded:

1957 - Doctor of Humane Letters, Morehouse College; Doctor of Laws, Howard University; Doctor of Divinity, Chicago Theological Seminary
1958 - Doctor of Laws, Morgan State College; Doctor of Humanities, Central State College
1959 - Doctor of Divinity, Boston University
1961 - Doctor of Laws, Lincoln University; Doctor of Laws, University of Bridgeport
1962 - Doctor of Civil Laws, Bard College
1963 - Doctor of Letters, Keuka College
1964 - Doctor of Divinity, Wesleyan College; Doctor of Laws, Jewish Theological Seminary; Doctor of Laws, Yale University; Doctor of Divinity, Springfield College
1965 - Doctor of Laws, Hofstra University; Doctor of Human Letters, Oberlin College; Doctor of Social Science, Amsterdam Free University; Doctor of Divinity, St. Peter's College
1967 - Doctor of Civil Law, University of New Castle Upon Tyne; Doctor of Laws, Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa

Martin Luther King Receives Nobel Peace Prize, Coretta King (right)
King Receiving Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway

CREDIT: Rev. Martin Luther King congratulated
by Crown Prince Harald & King Olav
Mrs. Coretta King (right) 
UPI Photo 1964 Dec 10. Library of Congress
At age 35, Dr. King was the youngest man in history to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The second American after Theodore Roosevelt, Dr. King is also the second African American in history to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The first African American to win the Nobel Peace Prize was Ralph Bunche in 1950 and the third black recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize is President Barack Obama.

Scholarly and Leadership Awards received below and others listed in the Archives of the Martin Luther King, Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Inc. in Atlanta, Georgia.

1957 - Among Time’s most outstanding personalities
1957 - Who's Who in America
1957 - NAACP Spingarn Medal Recipient
1957 - National Newspaper Publishers’ Russwurm Award
1958.- Guardian Association of the Police Department of New York, Second Annual Achievement Award
1959 - Among New Delhi, India, Link Magazine’s sixteen world leaders who contributed most to the advancement of freedom
1963 - Time Man of the Year
1963 - Laundry, Dry Cleaning, and Die Workers International Union’s American of the Decade
1964 - United Federation of Teachers’ John Dewey Award
1964 - Catholic Interracial Council of Chicago John F. Kennedy Award
1968 - Jamaican Government Marcus Garvey Prize for Human Rights (posthumously)
1968 - Southern Christian Leadership Conference Rosa Parks Award (posthumously)

Leadership is more than standing in front of a crowd and giving a speech. Leadership means teaching by example. 

MLK Arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, 1958
MLK Arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, 1958
We might as well face it. Most of us are not prepared for the type of leadership it takes to change the world. And we will never deliver an I Have a Dream Speech. But we can prepare ourselves and our children to do better than our parents, grandparents and other ancestors were able to do with Jim Crow on their backs.

After all, didn't Dr. King expect us to do just that? 

If not, what was it all for?


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Martin Luther King vs. Malcolm X: Who was more radical?

Radical in Different Ways

Martin Luther King & Malcolm X meeting

Martin Luther King & Malcolm X

Critics compared Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, saying that X more accurately reflected a growing sentiment of young people in the black community, attitudes that created the Black Power Movement.

And King, they said, represented the old tradition of turning the other cheek.

Looking at the way these two men approached change, one would think that Martin Luther King was the elder of the two, choosing nonviolent protest; and Malcolm choosing "any means necessary." The elder being part of an older generation and the radical one being of the younger generation. The truth is Malcolm X was four years older than King.
  • Martin Luther King, born January 15, 1929
  • Malcolm (X) Little, born May 18, 1925

Some observers came to believe that Martin Luther King was not radical enough, professing the nonviolent style of protest, intended to shame the aggressor into a different behavior, even providing specialized training for protesters of the nonviolent persuasion, teaching them to resist the urge to fight back. Is peaceful resistance a radical approach? Some critics say peaceful resistance is more radical than fighting back  because it is such an unexpected reaction. 

While, on the other hand, Malcolm X stood for an "any means" approach to change, also radical because this approach had been prohibited by Jim Crow tradition, making a violent retaliation mob punishable by lynching to create extreme community fear.

Young Teenage Malcolm X (Little)
Malcolm Little 
Young Martin Luther King just out of college
Martin Luther King
These men of the same generation were diametrically opposed in their tactics. Could one reason have been their backgrounds?

Both their fathers were ministers, but that may be where their similarities ended. 

Martin was born and raised in a stable, two-parent comfortable family home. Malcolm's father's activism caused the family to move frequently and may have caused the father's death when Malcolm was four years old. Afterwards his father was killed, his mother suffered a breakdown and was placed in a mental institution. Malcolm and his seven siblings were split up and placed in orphanages and foster homes. 

Malcolm X (Little) Jail Mugshot

Malcolm (X) Little Mugshot
MLK Morehouse 1948
Malcolm became a street hustler, drug dealer, thief and prison convict. Martin attended college and amassed degrees and scholarly awards. Could their lives have accounted for their approaches to social change?

Malcolm X Speaking to Crowd
Malcolm X
Martin Luther King Speaking at Podium
Martin Luther King
It is a well accepted fact that Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were quite different in the way they sought social justice.

Although, they shared common ground. 

Malcolm X meets Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King based his approach to protest of Jim Crow treatment on nonviolence. Malcolm X based his his approach to protest of Jim Crow treatment on violence or "any means necessary," in his words. In your opinion, did either approach make one safer than the other?
  • Malcolm X was assassinated on February 21, 1965. 
  • Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

What Is Race? Part Four: Who Is Jim Crow?

When I was a child I heard all kinds of truths and lies about what race was and was not, and tried to figure out where I fit into the messy equation. One day, my mother and I were walking to the store and the question spilled out of my month. 

"Who is Jim Crow Anyway?"

Sunny Nash, Six Years Old 

Sketch by Oklahoma Artist
Farmer-Stockman Magazine
"Jim Crow is an ugly thing made up a long time ago to keep people against each other," my mother said.

"Keep white people and black people against each other?" I asked.

"Jim Crow can even keep people in the same family against each other," She said. 

"I don't understand."

"People in the same group can be jealous of each other and try to hurt each other," she said. "Jim Crow was designed for that. Keep them fighting each other and they won't have time to fight us."

"I don't understand."

"Black people tearing each other down," she said. "Poor people fighting each other no matter what their color; girls jealous of each other because one has a prettier dress or longer hair."

"I don't understand."

"All the fighting and squabbling is Jim Crow's trap!" She said. "Don't get caught in it. It takes too much time and never amounts to anything but mess for no real reason."

Did Jim Crow make up race? I asked my mother.

She took a while to formulate her answer.  I could tell she was going to be careful about what she said. This was not the same kind of question she had grown accustomed to my asking when I was that young. I asked a lot of questions, so many that, sometimes, she simply told me, "Shut up!" Then apologized for being rude. 

"Why are you asking such a question?" She threw it back to me. "You're six years old. Where is this coming from?"

My mother never minced words when talking to me or sugarcoated any subject or ever talked baby talk to me. She simply gave me big chunks of information, sometimes in very raw form. When she came up with her answers for my endless questions, she always threw a question back at me. While I was coming up with my answer to her question, she had time to come up with the answer to my original question. The longer it took her, the more detailed her answer would be. However, my answer to her question had to be pretty good or she would throw me another question. And I could never repeat my original question, to which her response would be: 

"I heard you the first time!"

So, I waited patiently for her answer. My mother was very smart and read everything. She bought reference books and subscribed to newspapers and magazines, some were black publications that covered the horrors of life in the southern United States, including Emmett Till, the little boy who had been beaten, tortured and found in 
the Tallahatchie River with a cotton gin fan tied with barbed wire around his neckPictures of his brutalized body were published in the black magazine, Jet. 

"He wasn't much older than you," my mother had told me. "Jim Crow did that."

"Who is Jim Crow," I asked.

"The monster Rosa Parks is fighting!"

"Rosa Parks is fighting a monster?" I asked.

"Not like the monster under your bed," my mother shouted.

"There's a monster under my bed?" I shouted back!

"Shut up!"

Jim Crow Minstrel Character
Jim Crow Minstrel Character
Jim Crow, a minstrel character invented by a white actor in black face, Thomas "Daddy" Rice, represented laws to perpetuate oppression of African Americans after the Civil War. Outlandishly dressed, oafish portrayals of plantation slaves entertained white audiences from the 1850s to the mid-20th century with performances in churches and public schools through the 1950s and into the 1960s. 

Based on a slave song, Jim Crow represented oppressive laws and helped to sustain a degraded image of African Americans and their existence, in which they were trapped. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 passed over President Andrew Johnson's veto. Andrew Johnson, Abraham Lincoln's vice president and successor when Lincoln was assassinated after the Civil War. 

The Civil Rights Act of 1866  declared, "all persons born in the United States were now citizens, without regard to race, color, or previous condition. As citizens they could make and enforce contracts, sue and be sued, give evidence in court, and inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property. Persons who denied these rights to former slaves were guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction faced a fine not exceeding $1,000, or imprisonment not exceeding one year, or both." 

Nine Supreme Court Justices Decide Plessy v. Ferguson
Nine Supreme Court Justices
Decide Plessy v. Ferguson
The U.S. Supreme Court in 1896, legalized Jim Crow separate but equal between the races in the decision of against a black man who sued the railroad for refusing him a seat in the white section of the train. This ruling laid a legal foundation for discrimination in accommodations, services, education, housing, employment, health care, legal representation and everything affecting American life and held a firm hold on race relations in the United States. 

lynched black woman pic
Lynching of African American
Laura Nelson 1911

Jim Crow activities by the Ku Klux Klan undermined the act in the United States in the late nineteenth century, and the act failed to guarantee civil rights for former slaves, including female African Americans who suffered retaliation for speaking out for their civil rights. Because many victims of lynching were females, black women led the outcry against racially motivated lynching, a key to enforcing the Jim Crow system of government in most parts of the officially segregated South and, to a large degree, in the unofficially segregated North.
Anti-lynching Crusaders  NAACP Button, 1900
Anti-lynching Crusaders 
NAACP Button, 1900

In the 1890s, journalist, Ida B. Wells (1852-1932), wrote in protest of lynching and later the Anti-lynching Crusaders, a group of black women within the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), made a lot of noise  against this Jim Crow criminal practice, until the Legislature took on the problem in 1918 in a bill intended to punish state, county and local officials who did not stop lynching in their locales and create an atmosphere to end the practice altogether. Although the House of Representatives passed anti-lynching laws three times, none of the efforts passed in the U. S. Senate. The Senate finally apologized on Monday, June 13, 2005, for not passing anti-lynching laws over the course of its history.

A second attempt at civil rights legislation to combat Jim Crow was passed in 1868 in the form of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Section I of the amendment sums up its meaning and intentions. “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

African American Schoolhouse South Boston, Virginia
African American Schoolhouse
South Boston, Virginia
1920s & 1930s
The Civil Rights Act of 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment, extended voting to women, who were also victims of Jim Crow. The Act stated in Section I: The right of the citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Section II states: Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. 

In 1954, Brown v. the Board of Education made another attempt to destroy Jim Crow. The U.S. Supreme Court in Brown legislated: “Segregation of white and Negro children in the public schools of a State solely on the basis of race, pursuant to state laws permitting or requiring such segregation, denies to Negro children the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment--even though the physical facilities and other "tangible" factors of white and Negro schools may be equal.”

In the northern states where legal segregation had not been sanctioned by separate but equal, local Jim Crow enthusiasts controlled education, property ownership and voting rights as well as where people lived, where they went to school, where they worked, where they were born, how they were punished and where they were buried when they died. These laws and local traditions took away all of the freedoms former slaves had gained after the South had supposedly lost the Civil War and had wiped out all of the strides African Americans made during Reconstruction from 1865 through about 1877, when the federal government withdrew from the South all resources that financed efforts toward equality for the next 90 years.

"The same people who made up Jim Crow made up race," my mother finally said softly. "And it's now something we are all stuck with."

"What about Dr. Martin Luther King?" I asked.

"I'm afraid he's stuck with it, too."

"What if we changed Jim Crow's name?" I asked.

"Changing his name will not change him," she said. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

What is Race? Part Three: My Mother - On Jim Crow's Children

Jim Crow had many children.

"We're all Jim Crow's children," my mother said to me when I was a little girl. "I mean the black ones, the brown ones, the white ones and all those in between."

"Jim Crow is not my daddy," I said.

"Jim Crow may not be your daddy," she said. "But you're still Jim Crow's child."

Mason-Dixon Line and the perpetuation of slavery in the United States
Mason-Dixon Line

Many people think the only children affected by Jim Crow laws were black children. This is simply a myth. Jim Crow's children include everyone who went through America's public education system, past and present, North and South, urban, suburban and rural. Most people are not aware of the impact of Jim Crow laws on their own lives, and the lives of their ancestors--ancestors who may have been responsible for creating and enacting Jim Crow laws without realizing the lasting effects inside their own homes.

Deep-seated feelings of superiority and inferiority are the reasons we still need to have conversations about race relations in America.

Sophia Gordon Runaway Slave
Sophia Gordon Runaway Slave
Washington, D.C.
Some people don't know there was also slavery in northern states above the Mason-Dixon Line. Don't know what that line is? It is the cultural line separating the North and the South, established by a 1763 and 1767 survey to settle a border dispute between states, and had everything to do with racial classification in the United States and the perpetuation of slaver, the lifeblood of the nation, North and South. Because Washington D.C. is below the Mason-Dixon Line, there was slavery conducted withing the nation's capitol. 

Even though Jim Crow laws were erased from the books, the influence of this legal system on all of us is still present. This includes people who are products of the old segregated system in both the North and the South, many of their children, their children's children and so on and so on. 

When I was a little girl, my mother always told me, "Try to understand what the next guy is going through."

"Why do I care what the next guy is going through?" I asked her.

"Self preservation," she said.

"Self preservation?" I asked.

"If you understand what the next guy is going through," she said. "You may be able to guess his next move. If you can guess his next move, maybe you'll have time to get out of his way."

To define race, cast a wide net. 

Racial classification was so blatant in the United States during the early 20th Century that southern Italians were classified as a different nationality from northern Italians, who thought themselves to be more “white” and more closely related to the French and Germans. This classification seems to have been based on shades of complexion—fair-skinned northern Italians as opposed to dark-skinned southern Italians. 

Home of an Italian Rag Picker via Preus Museum
Home of an Italian Rag Picker via Preus Museum

In some cases of Italian racial classification, there seemed to have been a reliance on shades of complexion—fair-skinned northern Italians as opposed to dark-skinned southern Italians with latter receiving lower wages and harsher treatment economically and legally. Based on these criteria, segregation was imposed, which affected education and social services.

Racial categorizing led to the largest mass lynching of any group in the history of the United States in 1891. Although African Americans were customary targets, Southern Italian immigrants were targeted as well and many scholars believe the color of their skin played a significant part in the outcome of the injustice they sustained. Eleven southern Italian merchants were hanged in New Orleans and their corpses placed on public display. In fact, in the 1890s, 22 Southern Italians were lynched in parishes around Louisiana. 

Gerald R. Gems Sport and the Shaping of Italian American Identity
Gerald R. Gems
Sport and the Shaping
of Italian American Identity
 (Sports and Entertainment)
Southern Italian immigrants were called guineas, one of the most offensive racial slurs be to coined against Italian Americans, referring to the Guinea Coast of Africa as they entered plantation life in Louisiana and other rural agricultural regions. 

Gerald R. Gems said in his book on page 62, Sport and the Shaping of Italian American Identity, "Many Sicilians disembarked at New Orleans, and took up work on the sugar plantations of Louisiana, where hard physical labor became known as nigger work or dago work. At the 1889 state constitutional convention, representatives asserted, "according to the spirit of our meaning when we speak of a white man's government [the Italians] are as black as the blackest Negro in existence."

Italians, like African Americans in Louisiana and other parts of the Deep South, could not hold public office or vote and were restricted to segregated housing, employment and schools. 

A tactic of racial classification was to pit one group against another as a practical power strategy to control human behavior and resources,  and control the region's politics.  On the other hand, however, over time, some members of manipulated white, black and other groups have developed deep psychological mistrust, resentment and feelings of superiority or inferiority toward each other that have lasted throughout history. 

White Sharecroppers
White Sharecroppers

After Emancipation, the elite class, who had everything to lose by the commingling of different races of poor people, encouraged poor whites to think of and treat former slaves as beneath them to make themselves feel closer to the ruling class even though these poor whites did not own land, had no lines of credit, had no employment, were illiterate and could not vote--no better off than sharecropping former slaves, but deceived into thinking they had a God-given right to expect more and to do better than their black counterparts. And when white poor saw black poor doing better than them, it caused hostility, jealously and violent retaliation, as in Ku Klux Klan  rapes, cross burning and lynching, actions they felt justified in taking to protect the competitive edge of their favored group. 

Being classified as better than former slaves and closer to the ruling class was a mere deception. It would take many generations for poor whites to assimilate. Seldom did the wealthy ruling class have more social or marital relationships with poor whites than they did with blacks. Neither group was equal to the wealthy class and would never be. Neither group could, at that time or this, reasonably hope to amass the fortunes that drifted down through the generations, except today through great sports ability, entertainment talent, technology, social media, luck of the lottery, crime or a good education. Then watch what happens as the nouveau riche immediately join the old rich in political maneuvering. Nothing personal, though, because the rich are not required or expected to deal with the poor of any color. It is more of a class issue than a color issue and always has been.

The dominant class considered some immigrants as undesirable for assimilation as African Americans because of immigrants' dark complexion, foreignness of their customs and former cotton-picker status, regardless of the white racial classification these immigrants may have claimed.

They are all children of Jim Crow.

Child Labor Laws and Discrimination
Lewis Hine 1900 Photo
Pennsylvania Child Coal Miners
Further, in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the poor white class would be utilized by the wealthy to control and indoctrinate all other ethnic groups that came to these shores or were brought to this land or were indigenous to it, including reservation-restricted Native Americans and fresh-of-the-plantation former slaves. 

Children of poor white immigrants were enslaved in factories and mines for little more than a meal and a few pennies a day to help take care of desperately impoverished families.

Also included in the farm working class were Eastern European, Asian, Pacific Islander, Mexican and Middle Eastern immigrants, who were denied full citizenship rights before they were assimilated, if they were allowed to assimilate when these families came to America to work on plantations after the Civil War. These immigrants' children were customarily denied schooling and forced to work in unsafe conditions not much better than slaves or former slaves. However, like other white persons, they were indoctrinated by the Jim Crow tradition and some became active in the promotion of the Jim Crow laws separating them from African Americans and other groups that could be readily identified by physical features. 

Chinese Immigrant Farm Laborers
Chinese Immigrant Farm Family

Indentured Chinese were imported to build California railroads and levees. Afterwards, they were burned out or driven away. Mississippi Delta plantation owners imported them to Delta farms to replace slaves after Emancipation. Through labor agents, the same tactic was used to import Italian, Lebanese and Syrian indentured servants to Delta plantations to pick cotton alongside black workers who had stayed on farms after being freed.

When the Great Depression hit in 1929, immigrant families, who were already entangled in tenant farm agreements, were further victimized by a crashed economy. Unable to pay their sharecropping farm store debts, desperate indentured immigrants could not leave the sharecropping plantation system. Many ran away, leaving in the dead of night, and tried to find work in other locations. However, at that time, hungry people filled cities looking for free food, public relief and charity handouts. 

Jobs had become scarce for all workers and especially for immigrants, who were customarily subjected to increased Jim Crow discrimination and bigotry in times of economic distress. So, like former slaves, some unfortunate immigrant farm workers stayed on plantations where they could get a meal, even though, the meal cost them their freedom and held them in virtual slavery by dishonest bookkeeping of plantation owners who operated in the same fashion as before the Civil War. The difference was the workers were not exactly slaves; they were in debt to the farm store, a predicament also shared by a large number of poor white families who owned no land. Assault on the citizenship and political participation of former slaves and others through Jim Crow laws, a legal system designed to maintain separation and justify discrimination against nearly freed and newly freed U.S. citizens, continued until adequate education was provided for former slaves and immigrants.

Jim Crow laws continued into the 1960s in public education, employment, housing, justice, voting and all other aspects of American society. In the past, using skin color, race, ethnicity, gender, culture, language or other physical difference to determine how a person was treated made discrimination rather easy. Although separation, discrimination and treatment can still be seen along the lines of skin color, race, culture, ethnicity or language, these factors are not so easily identified in today's world with bi- and multiracial, biological, step, in-law, and extended families. It is not uncommon to find mix-raced families, exhibiting a variety of physical features and interracial relationships. In fact, not long ago, an elderly white man was stopped and questioned by police when they saw him walking his young black granddaughter home from school.

The United States, no longer comprised of homogeneous groups that keep their distance from each other, is the home of mixed groups of Jim Crow's children struggling to find identity in a nation that still struggles with questions of difference. This is not to say that there were no mixed-race people in the past. There were. The difference today is that the members of these families accept and acknowledge each other in a way they never could in the days of old Jim Crow. In fact, many ethnic people passed as white when their physical features allowed them to do so, hiding their true identities from new families, offspring, friends and the government.

"Who was Jim Crow, anyway?" I asked my mother.

"That's a conversation for another day," she said.

Be sure to read other conversations with my mother: