I remember where we were, and I see how far we've come

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By Alice Du Pont

This week is one, most agree, for the history books. The first African-American was sworn in as president of the United States Tuesday. As momentous as this week is, my thoughts go back decades to how things once were and how far we have come as a nation.

My earliest recollection that things in the world weren't quite right came on my first trip via Greyhound bus with my mother. We were going to Tampa to visit her sister, Leola, for a few days. The night before we were to leave my mother was busy frying chicken, making deviled eggs and baking cakes, all to be packed in a shoebox lunch. A shoebox lunch, for those of you who've never heard of such, is a lunch packed nicely in a shoe box because it is compact, easy to carry and holds quite a lot of food. Blacks used them for road trips in cars as well.

We boarded the bus before dawn and went to the back where other black people were sitting. I didn't sense of anything wrong or right, I was just sitting with other black people, and didn’t have any idea that my mother and I, because of the color of our skin, were prohibited from sitting in the front on a public bus.

When the bus stopped, all of the whites got off and went inside the restaurant. Some blacks got off the bus to use restrooms (outside and around the back of the building) and to get a drink of water from the “colored” fountain.We also had to suffer the humiliation of using the colored facilities.

My parents had, to their credit, shielded us from most blatant racism. To accomplish this, our contact with whites was as limited as possible. As a child, I remember asking her the difference between "white" water and "colored" water because the local Belk-Hudson store, which was located on the corner of Jefferson and Madison streets, had two water fountains. The "white" water was a cooler and the "colored" water was a fountain with tap water, which was warm in summer and cold in winter.

I don't think she ever gave me an answer to the water fountain question. It may have been too hard to explain to a small child who had only experienced love and kindness in a nurtured environment. Or maybe she just didn't want me to grapple with the hatred that accompanied racism and segregation until I could no longer get around it.

My mind went back to those things all weekend. Watching television, I looked up at the portrait of my parents often and wondered what they would have thought about the historic goings-on this week. My father died before the MLK holiday was law and before anyone ever dreamed there would be an African-American president.

We have come such a long way since that kind of in-your-face racism was the rule of the nation rather than the exception. And that is due to so many people who made the sacrifices that led us all to this week.

Local people like Dorothy Jones, James Palmer, Bill Robinson, Jim Williams, John Hutley, Bud Jones, Jim Williams, Patricia Due and John Due and others suffered death, death threats, tear gas, fire bombs and indignities to help this city, state and nation move forward.

There were many whites too, who saw the wrongness in segregation and who worked to eradicate it. They lost lives, friends and fortunes to do the right thing for civil rights. Whites who could not openly support the ideals lead by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. donated money for bail, legal defense and other necessities to further the cause for freedom for all.

And so as we embark on another chapter in the history of the United States and its people, let us to so with an eye toward the past so that it will never be repeated, and our faces toward to future, to work for a better world for all.