Hezekiah Brown

Hezekiah Brown Hezekiah Brown Hezekiah Brown

In life’s longevity, individuals have different experiences, some good and some bad. However, the experiences that stand out the most are those that had a negative impact on you.

As I look back on life, I recall living in segregated neighborhoods, attending segregated schools, and facing job discrimination numerous times. I also recall riding in the back of the bus while seats were untaken in the front of the bus; drinking from separate water fountains which had signs, reading “White” or “Negro”; being refused service in segregated restaurants; and being stereotyped and called derogatory names. I also have watched the Ku Klux Klan terrorize African-American communities in Alabama.

When I relocated to Buffalo, New York, in the early ‘50s I quickly learned that up north was no different than down south — if you were African American. Racism was inevitable, I still lived in a segregated neighborhood, faced job discrimination, and had to work menial low-paying jobs. I also was still stereotyped and exploited the same as in the South. However, I learned how to navigate the system and with the assistance of many other African Americans and whites, went on to a very successful professional career. I survived it all and do not have any hatred or dislike for anyone.

As I was growing up in the Deep South, I often wondered why many whites actually hated African Americans. It was so deeply rooted that one could feel the hatred and dislike by both adults and children. Many who performed domestic house duties were unable to enter the front door to the homes of prominent whites. They were forced to use the back entrance to cook, clean and babysit for their employer.

In addition, there were numerous individuals who worked in restaurants and hotels who could not enter through the front door to work what were underpaid jobs such as changing linen on the beds and working in the kitchen. They were relegated to using the back or side door, which was very humiliating.

In 2020, there are still many whites who believe that African Americans are second-class citizens. They believe African Americans are trapped in an economic quandary because they are lazy, uneducated and simply want a handout.

Many also actually believe that racism is over and accuse Africans Americans of using a “race card” to justify demands for equality. Some still believe that if African Americans and the media stopped talking about racism so much of it would go away.

Others are quick to point out that their family never owned slaves and want African Americans to “stop living in the past.” There are some who are quick to say “some of my best friends are African Americans” in order to convince others that they are not prejudiced and therefore could not be racist.

I believe the descendants of slaves should be compensated by the federal government for punitive and non-punitive direct violation of the U.S. Constitution during the “separate but equal” period from 1896 through the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

This period was one of the most despicable periods in U.S. history. It was a time when many of the rights guaranteed by the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution were taken away from only African Americans. No other race suffered such embarrassment and such inhumane and blatant discriminatory practices as did African Americans.

The “separate but equal” doctrine was extended much further to require separate restaurants, modes of public transportation, schools and even rest rooms. It affected communities, jobs, housing, and voting rights.

The freedoms granted during the Reconstruction period following the Civil War (1865-77) were vastly diluted by the Plessy v Ferguson decision. The Ku Klux Klan and white supremacists ran rampant during this period, not only intimidating Africans Americans but also beating and killing them without any consequences.

There were many laws passed between 1870 and 1965 that attempted to level the playing field for African Americans. The most significant was the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It hastened the end of legal Jim Crow. It secured African Americans equal access to restaurants, transportation and other public facilities. It enabled blacks, women and other minorities to break down barriers in the workplace. It also made access to equal education a reality for many in both the South and North who began attending integrated schools.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968 expanded these protections to voting and housing and provided new protections against racially motivated violence.

But as life would have it, many of these laws were never fully enforced.

Hezekiah Brown is a resident of Elizabeth City.