YOUR CIVIL RIGHTS STORIES
When my mom was about 7, my grandmother set up a Kool-Aid/lemonade stand for her three daughters to run—not to make money but because my grandma felt bad that the black people had to walk so far. So thus began the Kool-Aid stand. Water was free, and Kool-Aid and lemonade were 2 cents. The police chastised my grandparents for allowing contact of three little white girls (ages 7, 6 and 5) with black people. So my grandparents told the police off and dared them to arrest their daughters, which they didn't. The police would even buy Kool-Aid from them as time went on. This went on for many years, and never once did any harm come to them. As a matter of fact, friendships with black people were made. My mother and aunts learned a lot unknowingly from that experience. First, to be loving and kind to everyone. Second, it never occurred to them to be prejudiced. That's the love and legacy my grandparents passed down to us. Lewis, Marie, Etta, Marie and Louise Hiatt made a difference that's lasted for generations.
My father (V.T. Lee) felt very strongly about fighting for civil rights. My father taught me much about discrimination, hatred and the struggle to rise above it. He marched with many people for civil rights, at times, coming home bloody. I learned of the fire hoses being turned on marchers from my father. He would stand guard at the lunch counters to warn and assist. He wrote articles, traveled to marches and protests. Most important to me was that he taught me! You see, my father was a white man, born in 1927. I am so proud to have had him as my father, as I have never met another white man who fought so hard for others to vote, ride busses (and sit where they wanted), drink from a fountain, go to a public beach or movie theater. Not only did my father fight for these rights, he did it while living in the South. I was born and raised in Tampa, Fla. He was a very hated man by many. I witnessed much violence due to his beliefs.
What I remember most about the civil rights struggle was leaving my neighborhood in Newark, N.J., and going to the bus terminal in Irvington, N.J., to sit on a bench and wait for someone to come in and hire me to clean their house for the day.
I was always taken by car to the job site and returned to the bus station to make my way home. I missed my bus and decided to go into the Woolworth's at the corner to have a drink before the next bus arrived. I sat at the counter only to see the waitresses work their way down to me and go back to take care of the white patrons. Each waitress did this for some time as I moved from one area of the counter to the other. Finally, the janitor (a black man) told me that they would not serve me at the counter. This was 1963 in New Jersey. I was saddened and shocked to find out I couldn't sit and eat in a public facility with you. However, I could clean your house and take care of your children. I had been raised in mixed but poor neighborhoods all my 18 years, and had never felt so low and hurt. I came home and failed to share the story with my family for many years simply because racism had not been talked about in my household. However, I learned later that an older sister of mine (who was grown) had been one of the first participants at a sit in at Woolworth's in North Carolina.
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