Change is on the Way
December 1, 2020
By Paulette Taylor Monroe
Born 1948, in Newport News, Virginia, I attended elementary school from the first through the seventh grade and high school from the eighth through twelfth grade -- a time when I didn’t understand what being black was all about. My parents sheltered us from negative oppositions that were happening around us.
I remember my brothers, sisters and I sitting around the table or on the floor in our living room as my mom told us stories about when she was growing up and how life was for her. You see, there were no televisions or telephones in our household, so my mom’s stories were colorful pictures and yet real-life stories. They were sad and scary at times, but she wanted her children to be sure that they knew how to stay safe, where to go, what we could and could not do.
I grew up believing that white people were rich people; they didn’t have to worry about what they were going to eat. They were smart, so we thought, and the girls were prettier than black girls; they had beautiful long hair and they were always well dressed.
During my school years around 1954 at 6 years old, I attended an all-black school, drank water from a water fountain marked “colored” and sat at the back of the bus -- understanding that if and when the bus got crowded, you automatically had to get up and give your seat to the white person. Eating at the Woolworth five-and-dime food counter was definitely a “no-no.” However, during the summer months, outside of vacation Bible school, there was the theater. Three Coca-Cola bottle caps was the admission fee to enter only to sit on the first floor where the white kids would toss ice, soda cups, popcorn and whatever trash down on us.
My First Encounter with Racism
As I look back now on my life as a youngster, I cannot help but remember the summer of 1956 at the age of 8 years old. My mom put me on a Greyhound bus to go visit my grandmother. Arrangements were made for my uncle to pick me up from the station. During our hour-and-a-half drive to Emporia, Virginia, there was a storm; it was raining so hard when I arrived. To my surprise my uncle was not there. I got off the bus and ran into the station all wet. I forgot that I was not supposed to go in through the front door; all colored people had to enter through the back door.
I can still hear his voice. The attendant said to me, “You cannot come in this door.” I panicked. He said, “You have to go around to the back!”
You see, in those days, you could not park your vehicle out in front of the bus station or any other business, especially if you were black/colored. They would arrest you. So, my uncle had been circling around waiting for the bus to arrive; we just kept missing each other. By the time I came out of the station to go to the back, thank God he was there repeatedly telling me to “Get in, get in! I am not supposed to park here. They will arrest you for parking here.” That image left a long-lasting memory to this day.
I Lived Through It
The 1960s were a hard and painful season. Black people lost hope. The leaders they looked up to for help were no more. On June 12,1963, Medgar
Evers, an American civil rights activist in Mississippi and the state’s first field secretary for the NAACP, was assassinated. He organized voter registration efforts and economic boycotts and investigated crimes perpetrated against black people.
|Civil rights icons pictured L to R: President John F. Kennedy, Malcom X, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.|
A few months later was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Oh how well do I remember; school ended early that day, the neighbors stood along the sidewalk weeping, and black people cried in the streets. It was a sad day. I was in the ninth grade and I still remember it as if it were yesterday.
Before the civil rights movement, full legal equality was something that African Americans had never known. Blacks throughout much of the South were denied the right to vote, barred from public facilities, subjected to insults and violence, and could not expect justice from the courts. Blacks faced discrimination in housing, employment, education, and in other areas, but the civil rights movement had made important progress and change was on the way.
On February 21, 1965 came another loss -- Malcolm X, a spokesman for the Nation of Islam, was assassinated. And then came that day -- April 4, 1968 -- the day that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. That day our world was turned upside down. As I think about today in comparison to the 1960s, my mind goes back to that day when protestors took to the streets after the assassination of Dr. King, then again today with the death of George Floyd; I am having a flashback. Back then we were hosed down with water hoses and chased by dogs. Today, protesters face tear gas and threats of the United States National Guard; history is repeating itself.
Change is on the Way
My name is Paulette Taylor Monroe, born 1948 in Newport News, Virginia to the late Jessie Taylor and Elvin. I have witnessed and experienced so many different things during my lifetime of over 72 years.
Today, the challenges of life as a black person continue with the same scenarios but in different forms. Religion, especially Christianity, has played an enormous role in African American history. While most Africans brought to the New World to be slaves were not Christians when they arrived, many of them and their descendants embraced Christianity, finding comfort in the Biblical message of spiritual equality and deliverance.
As an adult, I became a member of the United Methodist Church in 1982 and have been an active member for over 38 years serving in ministry alongside my husband the Rev. Dr. Walter Monroe, Jr. Although Walter is the preacher, we served together in ministry with different focuses. We are thankful for the opportunity of being able to serve in four white congregations.
Interesting enough, I have served in two major leadership roles within the United Methodist Church among other duties. I have found that it is not the same for black people as it is for white people serving in the same church, doing the same jobs, and sitting around the same table. Acceptance is not the same. There are those that want to maintain the status quo. It is not easy for any of us, black or white, to fit in, be heard, respected, or have the flexibility to be yourself.
One case that resonates with me was a time when I had to present a speech to a group of people. As I was speaking, I witnessed the administrator of that event carrying on a sidebar conversation. “How rude!” I thought. He did not hear a word I said. So, you learn from things like this.
As I recall visiting a white church one Sunday morning, the greeter at the door thought I was lost. Rather than saying, “Welcome to our church! My name is…and you’re...?” She said something like, “Are you looking for someone? I think you may be looking for the church up the street. Are you new in this community?”
But what really resonated with me and has for a long time happened late one Saturday evening when a white church member rang our doorbell. As we greeted him, he said to my husband, “I need to speak with you. Can you step outside for a moment?” To my husband's surprise, as they were walking the white church gentleman said, “Walter, we, the members of the church don’t want you here.” My husband thought the man was joking. “What do you mean?” The church member repeated himself, “We do not want you here as our pastor.” We were shocked. What do you do?
And lastly, the election of the Conference Lay Leader in 2016. I was the first African American woman ever nominated in the Florida Conference to this position. A call from the floor came to suspend the rule to offer an additional name as a Co-Lay Leader; that triggered a devastating conversation -- not only for me as a black woman but I can imagine for the white women as well. You see, some felt that an African American woman needed help to do the job, so let us change the rule that would meet the needs of our conference. True or not, it happened.
I wonder if there will ever be a place in the church and throughout our world where black people like me will be able to sit at the white table with the mindset of “Future Focus” that we are all different and we do things differently, and regardless of how we do it, we do it to best of our ability, learning from one another.
An excerpt from the “I Have a Dream” speech from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a sufficient speech in the life of who I am. Dr. King said in his speech that he hoped his children would, “ …one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
“I have a dream today!”