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Chapel 11.10.10

Chapel 11.10.10

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Published by UUA ITS

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Published by: UUA ITS on Nov 06, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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David and I were born in the same part of the country, the rural hills of Appalachian East Tennessee. David was born 11 years before I was, butwe still were born into pretty much the same culture.The rules were pretty clear.Go to church—even if you didn’t want to. You could be forced to go tochurch. It was good for you—even if you hated it.Be neighborly. More so to people you know and of your “own kind”,but be neighborly to everyone.Know the pecking order. Not that you could escape it. Wealthy whites.Poor whites. African-Americans, though that term wasn’t used much inEast Tennessee in the 50s and 60s.Most of us in East Tennessee belonged to the middle category. Mygrandmother once told me they were so poor that they didn’t know theywere poor. But they did know the pecking order.
Most of us know something of the story of desegregation in Arkansas in1957 following the Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education, the Little Rock 9, and the National Guard being brought into help the African-American students make it safely through the schoolday.What most of us don’t know is that this was the second high school totry desegregation in the South. The first was in Applachian EastTennessee in Clinton a year before in 1956. Before this, African-American students had been bussed 45 minutes away from Clinton toKnoxville.The Clinton 12, as they became to be known, were ridiculed, verballyabused, tormented and attacked in that year. Less than two years laterClinton High School was bombed in three different locations withdynamite.David would have been entering first grade in a neighboring school westof Clinton when desegregation began. My mother was attending NorrisHigh School, where she would play on the girls’ basketball team and
become homecoming queen, Norris is just east of Clinton, though Norrishigh school integrated after she graduated.In 1969 we moved to Lexington, Kentucky. I would witnessdesegregation of the schools there like David and my mother had.Anyone has a lasting mark who lived through desegregation. It was atime of high anxiety, of knowing that the pecking order was no longer asclear. Life no longer seemed as easy for many Southern white folks.In 1986, Kenny Rogers released a song entitled Twenty Years Ago withthe line “Life was so much easier twenty years ago.” Most small townsin the American South hadn’t integrated in 1966. The pecking orderwas clear. The song rings of nostalgic hope to a simpler time.But for many people in the United States life was not easier in 1966.Women were clearly subordinates. African-Americans were at thebottom the pecking order. BGLT people were closeted, often married,often in pain. Those with disabilites were shut away, forgotten, andexcluded from society. Interracial marriage was still illegal in 16 states.And only 25% of the country thought interracial marriage was ok.

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