In Our Own Words: Girls Learn About Standing Up Against Racism

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In Our Own Words: Girls Learn About Standing Up Against Racism

by Clare Gunther
Director of Grant Development, YWCA of Greater Lawrence, Mass.;

Alicia & Ismerlyn
Participants in YWCA of Greater Lawrence’s After-School Program

Alicia & Ismerlyn (l to r)

Youth in the YWCA of Greater Lawrence’s After-School program have been discussing topics related to racism as part of the Stand Against Racism event series. Here, Ismerlyn and Alicia, both age 12, react to reading the story of Juliette Hampton Morgan, a wealthy white woman from Montgomery, Alabama, who took a stand against racism in the 1940’s and 1950’s, after riding the bus (she could not drive due to anxiety attacks) and witnessing humiliation and ill treatment that blacks experienced having to sit at the back of the bus.

Alicia and Ismerlyn learned that blacks had to walk out the front door of the bus after paying their fares, then re-enter through the back. They had to give up their seats to white passengers. Many bus drivers called them names and cheated them out of their fares. Incensed by the treatment, Morgan would pull the emergency cord to stop the busy every time she witnessed a black person being mistreated. The bus drivers retaliated by purposely mistreating black passengers, and she would get so angry she would get off the bus and walk to work. She began writing letters to the editor supporting desegregation. As a result, she suffered verbal abuse and threats, and lost her job, along with many friends and even the support of her own mother. In his book Stride Toward Freedom, Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to Hampton Morgan as “a white woman who understood and sympathized” with the Civil Rights movement.

“She was able to really see how they treated blacks on the bus,” said 12-year-old Ismerlyn, reflecting on Hampton Morgan’s experience. “Everyone has a right to sit wherever they want to. Juliette lost her job and her friends, just because she stood up against racism. I believe that if I were in her place, I would have done the same thing. I am not black, but I might be treated badly because I’m not white. This story taught me: don’t judge because of race and color. Instead, stand against racism.”

“I think Juliette took the bus because she was scared of driving,” noted Alicia, also 12. “But she also didn’t want to take limos like her rich friends and she separated from those friends because she was against racism. Even though she lost her job and her friends I learned a lot of things reading about Juliette because she understood racism, and now I do, too.”

Both girls said they have witnessed racism at school, but not between blacks and whites. They said that positive images in the media have helped them to realize how important it is not to judge people by the color of the skin or the country they come from.

“In my school, you can either be in a Dominican group or a Puerto Rican group,” said Ismerlyn. The two groups won’t sit together. My friends and I are not like that. We don’t want to be like that.”

“It’s like that at my school, too,” added Alicia. “It makes some people feel sad because you can’t get to know everyone. I believe everyone is the same, white or black, Puerto Rican or Dominican.”

Stand Against Racism logoThis post is part of the YWCA Stand Against Racism blog carnival on issues of race, justice and diversity. We invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #StandAgainstRacism.

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