I grew up in the 60s and 70s in South Mississippi. Our house was in one of the new subdivisions of modest homes. Of course, it was segregated. I remember going to Dr. Benefield’s clinic and waiting in the whites only portion. I noticed another room beyond the partition, but I was clueless about the reason for the separation.
On Saturdays, we went downtown to shop at Sears or J.C. Penney. I remember standing on the sidewalk waiting for my parents. My feet were tired, and I wanted to sit down, but the bench said, “For Coloreds Only.” I was just annoyed there was no place for me to sit.
When I started first grade at Anniston Avenue Elementary, there was one “colored” girl in my class. Her name was Mary Perry. Her parents lived at the very edge of the district. Mary graduated from high school with us. I have a Christmas card from her in my desk. In third grade, busing began. Suddenly, our classes were mixtures of black and white children.
The families on the Coast were not wealthy. We didn’t have “help.” There was no parade of black women into our all-white neighborhood each day. The only “help” we had was my live-in grandmother. When busing changed the racial mix in our schools, we did nothing. Private school tuition for 2 or 3 kids was not an option, and the only private schools on the Coast were Catholic. We simply stayed put.
This is not to say I grew up free of prejudice. In fact, I don’t think it’s possible to grow up in Mississippi without absorbing some of that taint. It’s in the air we breathe. In fact, it’s such a part of who we are that we’re not even aware of our own bias.
No, I’m part of the in-between generation, in between an older generation with still well-defined roles for the races and a younger generation with no memory of “separate but equal.” Just in-between enough to be uncomfortable hearing a watermelon joke about our African American President and also uncomfortable seeing a mixed race couple in public. I guess that’s progress.
Nancy Lottridge Anderson, Ph.D., CFA, is president of New Perspectives Inc. in Ridgeland — (601) 991-3158. She is also an assistant professor of finance at Mississippi College. Her e-mail address is email@example.com, and her website is www.newper.com.