Thursday, April 15, 2010

We moved to Ravenswood, West Virginia in 1974, after my husband was finally able to get his job transferred and find a place for us to live. Finding a place that would rent to a family with four young children was a challenge, as I might have mentioned in my post about our first disastrous attempt to move to the mountains. Our second attempt was successful, although it meant living in town in a townhouse apartment while we looked for land.

Where we lived in Virginia was country, is a sort-of kind of way. Our little house was on a dead-end road, with four other houses. That is, until a subdivision of "California-style redwood" houses began to be built all around us. My boys were used to seclusion, playing all over our acre lot, and generally being unbothered by anyone by their mother.

In Ravenswood, life was much different as we learned on our first afternoon there. A friend of my husband's from work, JD, came to help. JD was a long, lean, lanky black man from a family of about 40 siblings (honestly--that is the truth) in the deep South. He'd come to Charleston to work for Xerox, where my husband worked, and they developed a firm friendship. What we didn't know was that Jackson county at that time was completely white. There was no racial diversity at all. Even today, diversity is woefully lacking, but it has improved over the years. In 1974 intolerance was the name of the game. We were coming from northern Virginia where there was a good mix of ethnicity and culture, and never realized that it might not be the same everywhere.

It was a quiet afternoon when our moving van pulled in. It got quieter after JD arrived but we had no idea why. The boys happily began exploring the neighborhood and we settled furniture into the house.

It was weeks before anyone spoke to us. I wasn't really surprised--after all, in my old neighborhood I didn't even know the first names of my neighbors and rarely saw them even though I was a stay-home mom and didn't drive. I was home almost all the time, but the neighbors just didn't mingle. I didn't mind because even to this day I enjoy solitude. So when we moved to Ravenswood I never really thought it would be any different.

When our son Derek was hit by a car on Thanksgiving, the neighbors came out in force. (That is a story for another day). I got to know them after that terrible day, and made several good friends among the young mothers whose husbands worked at the local aluminum plant. Over time, I learned the reason for the quiet after our move. Racism. Blacks were not welcome in Jackson county in 1974. Some of the comments I heard in casual conversation made the hair rise on my neck, but I kept silent because...why? Because, I suppose, I was in the minority of opinion on the topic, and because I was young and not sure how to respond.

Over the years the climate has changed. While not perfect--and I doubt any place in America can claim that--there is more tolerance, more acceptance and even more blending of races. The county's population is still ethnocentrically (is that a word, even?) white, but today on the streets of our towns you will see a variety of cultures and races represented. I think it is a good thing. I still feel a chill when I remember the eyes of the young father who said in 1975, "Any black who comes to this town in the daytime, better be gone by nightfall, or he won't see another day." It's hard to believe someone would have said such a thing in public, but he did and I have never forgotten it.

I am not naive enough to believe racism is entirely erased in my county. I am hopeful enough, however, to believe that it is the minority opinion now, and that people who move here will be accepted no matter their color or culture.

This was not the story I intended to write today. It is the story that wanted to be told, so I am telling it. It's not a pretty story, but I believe it is a tale of many communities in the post-Civil Rights era, not just one small town in West Virginia. We can look back to those days and see what progress we have made, and look ahead at the changes we still need to make. We are moving in the right direction, and for that I am thankful.


Jai Joshi said...

Sue, this post really resonated with me, especially with hearing about what the Governor of Virginia did with the history of the confederacy that didn't mention slavery. I couldn't believe what I was hearing but he really did that.

In my own travels around Virginia or West Virginia over the last couple of years I didn't have any racial issues. I met wonderful people everywhere. The kind of talk and vitriol that's being flung around right now is amazing to me.


Granny Sue said...

I suppose it's always there, Jai, in some form, and it takes a small thing for it to rear its ugly head. I'm glad it's better where I live, but I have no illusions about it being completely gone. Unfortunately.

When people get to know others from different backgrounds, they almost always get along. It's when people are "the other" that causes problems. As you know, it's hard to hate someone when you know their story.

cherylhotton said...

Our grandson's father is black and so our sweet little boy is half black . I hope and pray that he will live a life free from racism . Will we ever see a day when we will look beyond the color of someone's skin and see what is in the heart instead ? I hope so .

Granny Sue said...

I do too, Cheryl and I think the fact that there are so many mixed race children will hasten that end. My new great-nephew is also mixed black and white. In our family, we're all kinds, tall, skinny, thin, heavy, male, female, brown, white and all colors in between and who cares? We love one another and that's what counts. Should be no more difference than age. Blessings to your little grandchild; he's lovely.

Anonymous said...

One of my friends worked for a coal mine in the southern part of the state in the mid 70's. His employer typically chose to hire "family" which wasn't that difficult due to the fact he came from a rather large family. Anyone not related was a "ferriner". I asked about the diversity of the "ferriners" and his comment was "Black? Heck son, they didn't even hire Catholics!" So, yeah, it was down there too.


Anonymous said...

My husband and I regularly go to Ravenswood and, while I'm in no way racist, am usually surprised to see a black person walking around there. I think that's mainly because there's not many there in town.

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