I’ll admit there are a lot of things about my family history I don’t know. Imagine that, since I love researching my genealogy. While attending my aunt’s funeral last month, I was a surprised to learn that my relative was a rebel. How cool is that? I knew that my mother, along with her siblings, were born in Mississippi. Back in those days, being a nurse or teacher were honorable and common professions for African Americans.
Aunt Edith was a champion of civil rights in Illinois. One of her impressive accomplishments was joining forces with her husband, pastor and two others to file a class action suit against the Waukegan School District #61 for their segregation hiring practices. But she didn’t stop there. Aunt Edith didn’t wait on their decision. She became a driving force in recruiting black teachers from the South and other states to come up North, (about an hour outside Chicago) to teach in schools with predominately black students. Rock on!
What is my legacy? Have I ever been a rebel? Maybe. Many years ago, I played a small part to help shut down Interstate-70 in St. Louis. It was in protest of minority contractors not getting their fair share (only a small percentage) of awarded contracts on major building projects across the city. Always rooting for the underdog, I joined hundreds to send a message that minorities are skilled laborers as well as highly educated professionals and deserve to be included, not excluded. It worked. The media coverage and the inconvenience to drivers caused our voices to be heard.
Fast forward decades later, then back track to only a few years ago, and it was a different scenario in St. Louis—Ferguson. The area is only seven miles from my house. This time, people were outraged that there had been another unarmed black youth killed by a white police officer. I have a son, nephews and friends who have African American sons. Whoever coined the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” hit home, because our children’s lives do matter, along with all lives. Again, African Americans were looking for inclusion, not exclusion that blacks don’t deserve to live a long life as do whites.
So, did I protest? I wanted too, but situation became too dangerous. Before I could slip into my walking shoes, a mass of misguided people looking for an opportunity to lash out at police took over, but not for the common cause. That was not good. The lines of hate were thick. We began to pray and reach out to families who were boxed in by the curfew, clean up businesses that were vandalized, and held seminars to inform parents of black youths how to keep their sons and daughters safe and alive when confronted by the police.
To be a rebel today means changing laws on the books before trying to tackle mindsets of people in power. That’s my legacy, to go after elected officials and force changes, then to hold people in power accountable for their actions based on the law. Marching is good, voting is better, but God’s will trumps all. We have to pray during difficult situations such as these.
To learn about the Ferguson that was untouched by the protests, download a copy of any of my Christian romance novels in the Guilty series. My passion is evident on the pages. I weave buried stories about the best and the worst in America. Yes, it’s a balancing act to write an inspirational story when so much was and still is stacked against African Americans, but the true meaning for “We Shall Overcome One Day,” can only be achieved with Christ, and if my stories help to reconcile the past and the presence, then to God be the Glory.
Here’s to Aunt Edith Mae Smith:
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