MY AMERICAN DREAM
It’s Sunday morning and my little sister is drinking her tea. The dog is chewing his bone. A soothing background-noise video is on television. Jazz playing. Skylines and vistas slipping past.
My sister has been trying to convince me to move to Alabama. Our older brother has lived their for a decade, at least. He left Florida to be able to buy the kind of home and have the type of lifestyle he felt impossible as a retired United States’ Air Force veteran.
As single women of college-aged children living in Florida, my sister and I have accepted that home ownership is next to impossible.
I’m warming to the idea of moving, but I’ve been teasing her about me becoming a “real southern lady” if we do.
And she keeps threatening to bust up my imaginary tea parties with my equally imaginary church ladies, using less than lady-like behavior. It’s a humorous, yet comfortable image. Me sitting in my Alabama home, living closer to my older brother, enjoying the company of other women as we share tea and fellowship.
However, I can’t buff away images, dark and grainy and scary, from my childhood. News footage that my toddler eyes didn’t understand. And later, the frightened whispered conversations. My mother and father, Kool cigarettes burning intensely as they crouched in front of news reports.
“ …they don’t want us to succeed,” my father, a normally soft-spoken man, growled into the smoky air of our living room.
“…hate us. It’s not safe trying vote there,” my mother, normally a tiger of a woman, puffed with visible agitation. The fear hung above them like smoke. The anger, too.
My sister was born in the ‘70s and grew up in the ‘80s. She doesn’t remember that. She didn’t know my parents when they were younger, fun, relaxed and just trying to make it. Or when they were apprehensive and worried for our futures because of the increasing change of our political landscape.
While the country has been celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the Suffrage Movement, little has been mentioned of black women and our right to vote. We’ve been left out of the discussion, same as we were left out of the fight. Even though black suffragettes date back to the late 1800s and earlier, leaders of the Suffrage movement feared their visible involvement could compromise the cause.
In a Time magazine article (Aug. 14, 2020), writer Olivia B. Waxman talks with author/historian, Martha S. Jones, about the long struggle of black women voters. Asked if black women were kept out of the campaign to secure voter rights for all, Jones states in the article:
And that brings me back to Alabama.
The 1965 Voters Rights Act followed shortly behind the Bloody Sunday massacre of unarmed black citizens by armed Alabama State Troopers in Selma, Ala. However, with the Trump administration and the Supreme Court’s gutting of the ’65 Act, which had been further strengthened in 2006, means that states no longer face restrictions on the type of limits they may impose on voters without Federal scrutiny.
In a 2018 New York Times article, Maggie Astor writes:
Alabama has enacted a slew of restrictive laws and policies, many of which disproportionately affect African-Americans, Latinos and other marginalized groups. In this, it stands out only in degree, not in kind: All over the country, state legislators are making it harder to vote. State officials say the voting measures are intended to prevent election fraud.
I can still see my father staring vacantly at the TV screen. Cigarette burning down to the filter. We lived in Michigan, but he grew up in the Jim Crow South. Vicksburg, Miss. His Adams apple would bob as he gulped back outrage I was too young to understand. I tried to soothe it with a kiss on the cheek or running my fingers through his soft, curly black hair. Band-Aids on an open wound.
So now I wonder …
If we buy homes in Alabama to be near my brother in 2021, am I stepping into my future, or turning the clock back to a desperate, ugly time? Florida may not be a Civil Rights safe haven, especially under current leadership, but then again, mommy never whispered, soft as a lullaby, “…they kill black folks in Alabama. It’s a terrible place.”
That’s a memory that’s hard to shake, little sister. Hard to shake.
I want to buy a home again, but I also want to exercise my right to vote. Can “Sweet Home Alabama,” really become my Alabama?
*Martha S. Jones, mentioned above, is the author of, Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All.