Good News from A Great City Haverhill, MA
The Heartbeat of Haverhill was very proud of our city today. On August 28, my guess is that more people watched a YouTube video of a flash mob dance in a railway station than the film footage of the March on Washington on its 50th anniversary, and shamefully I might have been one of them. But that was not the case because Mayor Fiorentini posted on Facebook his desire to honor the day and the marchers, and our own Irene Chretian.
Ms. Chretian worked for her company union and was a mother when she participated in the March on Washington. And while 50 years is a long time her memories are strong. Though she might have been nervous, she didn’t have a sense of fear as she boarded the bus. She felt she was protected by the sheer quantity of participants. She does remember the heat – a day so hot it poisoned the food many people brought with them with salmonella. She was positioned quite a distance from the podiums, and cannot identify exactly where, but between the distance and the noise of the exuberant crowd she found it hard to hear every word of Dr. King’s speech. She knows it well now, and she and the assembled group listened intently as a video of the speech was replayed for the gathering.
A group of a dozen gathered in the Mayor’s office and were treated not only to the full recorded speech but to an impassioned discussion among honored guests who lived the injustice in the south, as well as in the north. Marcher Irene Chretian is in her 80s now, and grew up in Andover, MA though her father was originally from Kentucky. Ms Chretian wants it known it is a misconception that “everything was rosy for African Americans living in the north.” She suffered many of the same indignities. She certainly never had a black teacher in school, in fact the teachers she did have allowed the taunts and sputtered “N words” telling Irene “Those are just words, you shouldn’t let them bother you.” She was bullied and forced to prove herself again and again to get the same recognition in sports or academics; she had to exceed the requirements expected of the white students or she would be deliberately overlooked. Another attendee, Mattie Mangrum, grew up in Alabama and said there was a name for that: the “110 Rule”. Just to break even, the African American students had to exceed 100% accuracy or ability, a daunting if not impossible task.
Kalister Green-Byrd, a retired educator, has a history of volunteerism in Haverhill that is too expansive to compile here. She recalled that while growing up in the turmoil of Alabama her father implored the family to remember “There are some good white people” in the hope that he could prevent bigotry among his own children. This despite the fact that his kids were denied new books in school (children at Decatur Negro High School in Alabama were issued discarded outdated books the white schools didn’t want), that his children and all African American children were denied a ride to the integrated school by the bus company hired to transport them, that his family could be in physical danger for any imagined slight. The difference between the north and the south according to Green-Byrd is that “in the north there were laws to protect you so at least you had a fighting chance. In the south, there was nothing. You didn’t have a chance.”
So what did this gathering want to impress on the city and the country?
When asked about the difference between the current generation and her own, Ms. Green-Byrd didn’t want to generalize but felt that perhaps some parents are doing a disservice to our children in an effort to protect them from absolutely everything. We all want to give our children a better life than we had, but perhaps the struggles, the failures, the injuries, the exposure to injustice make us better more empathetic citizens who take action to fight injustice, who value the rights bestowed on us. Ms. Green-Byrd’s statements called to mind a butterfly. A butterfly develops inside a protective shell (a chrysalis); when fully formed it painstakingly forces its way out of the confines. If however it is released from its chrysalis by a well meaning human, it will not survive for it is only through its struggle to be free that a butterfly develops the strength it needs to fly.
There were a lot of butterflies in the Mayor’s office on August 28, and The Heartbeat of Haverhill was rewarded by being in the audience when the Mayor recognized their stories.
THOH was moved by the I WAS THERE section of the 50th Anniversary March on Washington website http://50thanniversarymarchonwashington.com/i-was-there/#comment-952737954
Take a moment and read and analyze the full text of the “I Have A Dream” speech http://www.archives.gov/press/exhibits/dream-speech.pdf
Eagle Tribune article by Mike LaBella http://www.eagletribune.com/haverhill/x86512640/She-marched-with-King
©2013 by Alison Colby-Campbell