I was born on May 2, 1945, in the colored section of Arcadia General Hospital, in a Florida town originally established to be all-white and Christian. The tiny room in which I was born, reserved for “coloreds” was symbolic of the circumscribed life planned for me. I was born into a society that would not recognize my beauty, my intelligence, or my humanity. But I was welcomed with all the love my 21-year-old mother and 26-year-old father and extended family could possibly give. I was the first-born on both sides of the family, and all of my life would hold the special honor that affords. I would also be the only child of my parents as my mother’s congenital heart defect meant she would bear no more children. I came with a head of curly hair, eyes so dark they appeared black, and a cafe con leche complexion. My maternal grandmother named me "Mamma Sweet" and an older cousin accorded me the title of May Queen. Those messages of love so sweetly and persistently given built the spirit of this colored girl.
What did it mean to be born colored in 1945?
The life meant for a colored girl born during the Jim Crow era (1877-1964) which would last another twenty years would not be that of royalty but of restriction in every aspect of my life: as a “colored,” I would be a victim of the “veil, the term coined by DuBois which indicated erroneous beliefs based on a mythology of black intellectual, cultural, and moral inferiority: I would attend poorly financed and equipped schools designed to be inferior to those of white students, and my teachers would be paid less than their white counterparts.
Jim Crow laws would require me to experience segregated seating, eating, sleeping, restrooms, waiting rooms, and ticket windows when traveling. I would be denied entrance to public libraries, parks, swimming pools and playgrounds. The racial hierarchy would attempt to condemn me to employment in a menial job that required my subservience. Jim Crow custom and etiquette would expect my manners, voice, attitude and demeanor to enforce the mythology of white superiority. Most critically, white socialization would require that I know and keep my place in the racial hierarchy.
Perhaps along the journey of these 71 years, I have been scarred by ugly names, Jim Crow rules and outright fear of those who surrounded me but were not my own. I know that the strength and love of the brown hands who first held me created a spirit within me that made me not only proud of being colored but even established within me a sense of empowerment.
I do not see myself as a victim. I have a life that I love, but I am a realist. I understand that education, degrees, and a certain status separate me only marginally from the stereotypical and negative images of those less fortunate than myself. Only when all my people are free from the distorted images that continue to bind them will I be totally free.
I am well aware that being born colored meant being subjected to a caste system codified by the enslavement of my ancestors. Being born colored means that America as a free and democratic society is still an elusive dream for me.