Not in My Neighborhood
November 30, 2020
By Ginger Medley
My first experience with racism was at five years old in 1980. That’s when I began to learn that being Black was different from being White. My parents had just bought a brand-new townhouse in The Pines neighborhood of Stephens City, Virginia. They were first-time homeowners and they were elated. We were the first Black family to live in The Pines and even though just one street over about 15 Black families lived in a small neighborhood called Freetown, no one had “crossed the line” into the all-White Pines neighborhood.
A couple of weeks after we moved in, Confederate flags began appearing on the front porches and were hung in the bedroom windows of a few homes. My parents told me that I couldn’t go outside alone and that I could only ride my bike in our townhouse section parking lot, just to be safe…just in case.
Every time we left the neighborhood, we had to drive past those houses with the Confederate flags. It was a hurtful reminder that we were not welcomed as equal tax-paying homeowners. We were not welcomed as a young family looking to lay down roots. We were not welcomed because we were Black and Blacks did not belong in a White neighborhood. To this day, I still get a twinge of disgust when I see a person, a business, or an event displaying the Confederate flag.
Thank God for the Lily family. They had great influence in The Pines and they refused to cave in to the convenience of silence or ignore the problem. Mr. Lily personally came to our house and apologized for the poor welcome we had received. He then went to every house with a Confederate flag and convinced the owners to remove them. Mr. Lily used his power and privilege to stop the displays of blatant racism.
My family lived in The Pines for eight years. We made great memories and built some really good friendships. By the time we moved in 1988, the neighborhood was beautifully diverse and the Confederate flag never made any more appearances.
“Oh, You’re Going to School”
I attended James Wood High School in Frederick County, Virginia. My graduating class in 1993 had over 500 students and only 13 of those students were Black. At that time Virginia celebrated Lee-Jackson-King Day as a state holiday. It was a weird combination of honoring the life of Confederate generals Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Robert E. Lee in addition to Civil Rights pioneer Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Even though MLK Day was a recognized federal holiday, my high school was open with business as usual on the third Monday of January. Every year I would get mad that the surrounding school districts took the day off to honor Dr. King, but my school district was open. So, in my junior year, I planned a personal protest to skip school and take the national holiday off. When I told my mother the plans, I fully expected her to be proud of my self-awareness and desire to challenge the establishment’s insensitive actions.
Her response was short and sweet: “Oh you’re going to school. Dr. King fought long and hard so that you could go to the same school as those White folks. You give him more honor by going and doing well than by taking the day off.” My mom taught me that I could protest by working with diligence and excellence. That I could honor the sacrifices of my foremothers and forefathers by maximizing every opportunity I was blessed to receive because of their labor of love in hope for a better tomorrow.
Virginia separated Lee-Jackson-King day in 2000, opting to celebrate General Lee and General Jackson on the Friday before the third Monday in January. Frederick County still celebrated Lee-Jackson Day up until this year, when the state senate officially abolished Lee-Jackson Day.