African American AIDS History Project

Southern Resistance

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Southern Resistance

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I was born and raised in small town (Twinsburg) equidistance between Cleveland and Akron Ohio. I grew up in a completely black/segregated neighborhood and attended an integrated school. My parents were both from Alabama and relocated to Ohio in the late 1940's to work in the steel industry. Our family would always come to Selma to visit relatives during our summer vacation....until the year 1965.that year we did not make our yearly pilgrimage because of all of the civil rights unrest. I was 12 years old in 1965 and always wondered if we had come what would we have seen and could we have made a difference. Also, being a budding young radical I wanted to do something to be a part of winning freedom for myself and my people. Fast forward to the year 1989. My father and mother had divorced and he returned to Selma to live with take care of his aunt who had raised him from the time that he was 2 years old after his mother died. "AUNT ABBIE' was born in 1889 and was a remarkable woman who had been a nurse, school teacher and community activist for years in the community. She was the daughter of former slaves and one of a handful of black registered voters in Selma and full of vigor and vitality, even at the age of 100. I came to Selma to help my dad because his health was failing and I wanted to put h is affairs in order. During my 2 month stay, I would have to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge several times a day to get back and forth to attend to business. This bridge is the site of the 'Bloody Sunday Massacre' that led to the passage of the 1965 voting rights act. One day I decided to get out of my car and to walk in the footsteps of those marchers who had been beaten and trampled by horses on their way to Montgomery. As I began to walk across the bridge I was 'overcome' by some unseen/unheard spirit that brought tears to my eyes and filled my entire being. I 'heard' voices that seemed to be telling me to do 'something' in my life to make a difference. I could smell the tear gas that clouded the air 35 years earlier and my lungs were choking as I gasped for air. The ghosts of that event changed my life forever. I returned to Ohio, ran for public office and over the next 7-8 years transformed my own impoverished hometown by creating an 'Enterprise Zone" that created over 10,000 jobs and 850 million dollars in capital investments and payroll. I returned to Selma in 1997 when my father became terminally ill and promised him on his death bed that I would take care of his Aunt Abbie. She was 107 years old and I was thinking that she couldn’t last very long and I would stay until she died. She was completely lucid/alert and lived to be 112 years old and voted in every election until her death in 2001. During this time I was able to meet such civil rights icons as Stokley Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, Amelia Boynton and even Coretta Scott King. After my aunt’s death, I became involved in the HIV/AIDS issue in 2001 and will likely spend the rest of my life/career involved in addressing this problem. Immediately upon my entrée' into this field I was able to see clearly what the issues were as it related to minorities and the DEEP SOUTH mindset. Almost immediately I noticed that wherever I went in the state that I would be the only minority in the room. This was puzzling because the overwhelming majority of the consumers were African American. All of the Executive Directors of the AIDS Service organizations were Caucasians. All of the funding not controlled by the state rested in the hands of people who did not live in the communities that they served. When consumers would see me, they would cautiously approach me and in hushed tones inquire if I were there to help them. They are reluctant to speak out or voice their opinions on this subject for fear of reprisal by the agencies that literally hold their lives in their hands. My walk on the Edmund Pettus Bridge forever changed my life for the better and I am so proud to be called a community activist and my journey to Selma was indeed a road less travelled that I was predestined to take.

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“Southern Resistance,” African American AIDS History Project, accessed November 17, 2017, http://afamaidshist.org/items/show/63.