A Visit to Washinton, D.C. from the West

Building Bridges While in Beijng, China

HRC In Atlanta [1975]

The middle aged woman struggled to stay on her feet. She jerked and staggered between two larger women. They ushered her away from the auditorium with polite civility. Yet, these two women could not keep the twisting lady, though firmly in their grasp, from vocally shouting. The uncooperative captive ranted.

“Those goddamn redneck crackers! I can’t stand to see them! This convention is for us! They should not be here! White snakes in the grass is all they are! They have always been hypocrites. Smiling in your faces and saying they understand. But lynchings and discrimination continue! Let go of me! You can’t stop me from speaking the truth! Lemme go!”

Her captors continued to strong arm her, dragging their cargo further down the lobby. These three were black women, human rights veterans. The two larger ones were softly saying words to console their ranting colleague. Their retreating figures became smaller and smaller as the auditorium double doors flew open again. The seminar occupants surged out like a gulf of dam breaking water. They had missed the scene and the hallway ranting, but already had heard a sample outburst seconds earlier coming from the rear of the auditorium. The middle-aged woman had interrupted the White keynote speaker by standing up and shouting questions.

”Just who do you think you are? How can you claim to know what our people have been going through all these years! How can you know how it feels to be like us?”

The meeting had been the National Human Rights Workers convention. Atlanta, Georgia was the host city. Myself being a twenty-eight year old male, attending my first HR convention, I did not know what to expect. I had been standing in the back of the auditorium when this woman had exploded. People did not seem shocked at her outburst. I heard several affirming "Amens!" I opened one set of double doors for the party of three to exit.

The captors looked embarrassed as they hurriedly tried to shush quiet their struggling colleague. I could see slobbering foam around the screaming lady’s mouth. Her eyes were glazed and darting wildly. It seemed that she was under a mental breakdown. Clearly she had broken code acted niggardly, vocalizing what some silently thought. I felt a wave of empathy for the woman in torment. Obviously, being much older than I, and perhaps a native southerner, she had seen more racial atrocities than I. Apparently, there had been a recent experience serving to be the straw that had broken her. Whatever, this event had obviously carried more weight than a simple straw.

As the well-dressed crowd swirled passing me, a thought suddenly came to mind. Was the breakdown I had witnessed been due to a veteran being on the front lines of race relations too long? I was aware that heart attack rates among black men in the USA were higher than other cultural groups and genders. But black women also had an undeniable degree of high stress living in the racist American system. Seeing the ranting and raving of the aging civil right worker had been unsettling. I did not want this to happen to me. Maybe the vocation of a professional social change officer was not for me. I knew that enforcing laws against long held racial prejudices would be profoundly difficult. But if I was to remain a paid civil servant in this field of work, a positive adaptive mindset would be critical to my survival. Failure would only lead to the looney bin at best, or early grave at worst.

[by Aaron Anthony Vessup, author of BLACK IN CHINA, and soon to be released,

AMERICAN ROBOT: Rising Above Race and Religious Traumas]

Aaron A. Vessup
Aaron A. Vessup
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Aaron A. Vessup

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