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Delores Handy: 'I Have Had A Box Seat On History'

This article is more than 13 years old.


I never expected this in my lifetime.

I'm a product of the Jim Crow South.

I grew up with the white and colored drinking fountains.

The white and colored restrooms. The whites-only restaurants.

I grew up in a city where even those restaurants that catered to people of both races had to have separate dining rooms. Even black-owned restaurants had to provide separate facilities for blacks and whites.

And I won't talk about the differences between the whites-only and colored-only facilities.

When I was a little girl, we would sometimes go to the movies on Sunday afternoons, after church. We had to go to the Gem Theatre on 9th Street. That was the black theater. The Capital, the Center, and the Arkansas were theatres in the heart of downtown, but they were for whites only. What's interesting is that whites could come to 9th Street and the Gem Theatre, to the black side. Yet, we could not go to whites only venues.

I grew up in a time when my parents had to pay a poll tax to vote. The tax was $2. I knew of people who worked for only $3 a day. Paying $2 to vote, when Election Day was months away, was not something many could or would be willing to do.

Even after the Voting Rights Act was signed in 1965, there was the matter of who to vote for. Once you got beyond the top of the ticket, your choices were between one segregationist and another, who were trying to out-do each other in their efforts to deny my family full rights as a citizen.

"2-4-6-8, we don't want to integrate." I remember the angry mobs. Grown-ups and their children spewing hate.

It was all so painful and the pain lasted for such a long time. The fallout even continues to this day.

I submit to you it's worth it.

When we were separate, you didn't know us. We knew you; we cleaned your houses, cooked your meals and cared for your children.

You never saw our homes; you didn't know how we lived. You marveled at our strength in times of crisis.

Now, for many Americans there is no you, and there is no us. Our children play together. We work together. It all began when we started going to school together, getting to know each other, learning to respect and trust each other.

A black man running for president — that's a direct consequence of us knowing each other.

There still are far too many people who look at each other and make judgments about competence, and virtue, based on the melanin in the skin or the tightness of the curl in the hair.

It was disheartening to be down south over the summer and hear people say they were not registered to vote and weren't going to register. Their explanation — "There's no point in me voting, they are just going to put who they want in anyway."

Yet, attitudes have and are changing. While it's clear they have a long way to go, what we have in this election is something we all prayed for, but never expected to live to see.

We now recognize that acceptance is directly proportional to how much we've gotten to know each other.

Our headlines are filled with examples showing just how far we have to go, but this presidential election is testament to how far we've come.

This program aired on November 5, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.