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Voices of Civil Rights

YOUR CIVIL RIGHTS STORIES

Bruce Tallini

Wynantskill, N.Y.

When I was in the second grade growing up in western New York the gym teacher used to call me "spaghetti arms" and "grease ball." I was 7 years old and had no idea what he was talking about. I went home and asked my dad about it, and he was silent for a minute before telling me that it didn't mean anything and to just forget it. As the years went by, I got used to being called vulgar names because I had an Italian surname. I learned about the persecution that my dad and granddad had to deal with when they were growing up and when they were in the armed forces in World War I and World War II. I learned to laugh off people's ignorance, but it's a shame how cruel people can be.

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Sherry Marshall

Largo, Md.

No child should experience racism, and have such ugly and painful memories the rest of their life, just because of the color of their skin. As I reflect, I have a few memories of a lifetime of racism in America, but I shall share this one today. It was a spring Saturday morning and I was with my mother on the bus going downtown. The bus was crowded with standing room only. I was holding onto a bar, facing an old white man with a cane. Precipitously, the driver slammed the brakes, forcing me as well as others to lose our balance. In the attempt to keep from falling, I accidentally stepped on the old man's foot. He retaliated by hurting me — he stamped on my foot as hard as he could. I looked into his piercing eyes; cold, sky-blue eyes that were filled with rooted hate for me and all I represented. Without blinking, he looked into the eyes of a small black child, and not only did he see fear, but he saw my questioning, "Why?" This was my first conscious experience with overt and covert racism. I was 6 years of age. I do not struggle to recall his face.

That experience taught me as a young child that there truly is a difference in our society with skin color, and my skin is not the chosen one. However, my mother taught my brother and me to treat everyone on an individual basis, no matter what the color of their skin, their religion, faith or choice. That old man with those piercing, sky-blue eyes did not speak for everyone of European descent, and I continue to live my mother's humanistic philosophy: individual basis only. This fall is my 37th year teaching in the public schools, I have always taught each class my mother's philosophy, treat everyone on an individual basis only. Anything else is ignorant.

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Renee Spears

Arnold, Md.

My dad worked for 44 years at a local college as a carpenter. One day he and the foremen, who was white, went to the cellar of this very large building to retrieve some supplies. As they were rounding the corner, they came upon a huge hangman's noose with support beams lying on the floor. My dad asked the foremen what was that. He said, "You know what it is." The next day when he went back, it was gone. My dad never spoke of this to anyone, because he was very scared that he would be fired. It was only after he became very sick that was he able to tell me some of his experiences.

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Civil Rights Voices: Share Your Story

VOices Of Civil Rights

On Aug. 3, 2004, AARP set out on a 70-day bus tour, through 22 states, to gather the extraordinary stories of ordinary people who played a role, both big and small, in the civil rights movement. The effort resulted in a collection of thousands of personal stories, oral histories and photographs. Through the collaborative effort of AARP, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) and the Library of Congress, the collection was donated to the Library of Congress to create the Voices of Civil Rights exhibit. Housed at the American Folk Life Center of the Library of Congress, the exhibit documents key moments in the civil rights movement.

 

In honor of the upcoming 50th anniversaries of the assassination of Medgar Evers (6/12/63), the March on Washington (8/28/63) and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (7/2/64), AARP revisited the vast collection of amazing civil rights stories housed within the Voices of Civil Rights exhibit. Of the thousands of eye-opening stories, we selected six poignant recollections to share with the public in a nationwide campaign.