The Little Church Down the Street
When I was young in the 1960s
The first time I was ever called a "Nigger Lover" occurred when I was approximately five years old, back in the early 1960s. I had hardly ever been exposed to any other culture except my own because I had been in and out of the hospital for most of my young life. Therefore I did not even understand what that phrase meant until an incident occurred that changed my life forever.
Music to our ears
One day my sister and I had just stepped outside our Sunday School class when we heard the loud yet beautiful music emanating from a little church down the street, so we went to investigate. As we ventured nearer we noticed that the huge wooden doors were wide open and the people inside were dancing and clapping jubilantly to the beat of the music and the praises of the minister up front. Here, everyone seemed to be having so much fun. This was quite different from our congregation where we always stood behind our pews and sang solemn hymns behind closed doors as the choir performed to the quiet tones of the piano. However, at the same time the scene was quite scary because I had never seen so many dark skinned people gathered in one place before. My sister and I were so mesmerized by what we had witnessed that we returned the very next week, and even the week after, until one day the preacher spotted us sitting across the street and invited us inside.
The "Black Church"
Everyone welcomed us with handshakes and smiles as the multitude parted when the preacher lead us up the aisle to the front pew and asked the people seated there to make room for us before proceeding to announce our presence. We were very frightened and bewildered at first because we were the only white children in a room full of dark skinned strangers, the same sort of people that our own church members and friends had proclaimed as souless. Besides, by this time we also believed we were going to be punished by our parents for entering such an unfamiliar place without telling them of our plans (little did we know the preacher had sent a courier to inform them of our whereabouts). However, these people treated us like royalty that day, as we sang and danced right alongside them, which perplexed us even further because we could not understand why God would not give souls to people who were so nice. Little did we know of the even greater turmoil we would cause that day.
Oh what a commotion we caused!
When some of the townsfolk found out what we had done they began calling us all manner of hateful names and suddenly we were no longer welcome in many of their homes. Even our parents were threatened with excommunication from the congregation for allowing us to visit the "black church," as they called it. Thus, this was also the first time I began to understand what discrimination is and the sacrifices people endure when they stand up for what they believe. For the first time in my young life I was proud of the lessons my parents had already instilled in me as I watched them stand up before the multitude and proclaim that all people have souls, that African Americans are no different than anyone else, and we would always be free to associate with any culture of our choosing.