On a day like today, the realities of this country’s past, who we are, and where we are headed must not be forgotten. This is a powerful piece. I encourage you take the time to read it, in its entirety.
Goldie Taylor: Growing up in East St. Louis, the Fourth of July holidays hold some of my fondest memories. My cousin Booky and I woke at daybreak to help my Uncle Ross clean the grill and get a first crack at the box of fireworks. When Aunt Gerry wasn’t looking, he’d sneak us a few boxes of sparklers and a book of matches he knew we weren’t supposed to have. Booky, a crafty Svengali, always managed to come up with a cache of forbidden bottle rockets.
Uncle Ross placed the large American flag into a metal bracket affixed to a freshly-painted white column on our front porch. He was proud of that flag, proud of his Army, proud to have served his country in the Korean War. Back in 1976, we were brown, small and indifferent to the world swirling around us. Unbeknownst to us, we were living history too, the children of the Great Migration. Our grandparents had joined the movement of six million African-Americans out of the rural South, in search of good paying jobs, housing and a basic fairness they had never known. My mother’s family had come north from Tunica, Mississippi, my father’s family from tiny Spadra, Arkansas. Some took jobs in factories, others as domestic workers. But that was everybody’s story. It wasn’t unusual for somebody’s cousin to be visiting from “down South.”
We were 134 years beyond the Declaration of Independence when the migration began around 1910. However, it had to be abundantly clear to my grandparents that despite the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, rights on paper did not always equate to rights in practice. Today, East St. Louis is nearly 98 percent black, largely impoverished and mostly forgotten. It is no longer useful to measure how many students don’t graduate from high school. Many do not reach the 9th grade. The cycle of poverty begins and is perpetuated in the halls of a junior high school. That Fourth of July night in 1976, Grandma Alice and I sat at the windowsill in her upper room, listening to the Cardinal game on a transistor radio, then watching the fireworks over Busch Stadium. “What kind of free is this?” she said, stroking my head. “What kind of free is this, child?”