As I said in this article, I spent election night at a party. Without a doubt, the most excited person there was Mary Jane. Recently, she sent around an email to family and friends. I found it very moving and asked if I could post it here. Here is the version she sent, which I publish here proudly.
November 4, 2008 , election night, was a historic night for me. I realized I had lived to see what I thought would not happen in my lifetime. Upon hearing my candidate, Barack Obama, was elected President of the United States, all I could do was cheer, cry and repeat, “I can’t believe it.” Calls of joy came pouring in from my family, my brother in Seoul, Korea’s Embassy, my son at the Barcelona’s Consulate’s party where he appeared on TV, from my son at a Democratic Party of Expatriates in Madrid, from my son celebrating with thousands on the streets of Seattle waving the American flag and cheering, from Northern Virginia, Wisconsin, and Louisiana!! My faith that society could change for the better was suddenly restored. My lost faith replaced with the faith that good can prevail.
You see, I was born here in Mississippi at the start of World War II, and I lived to know that my Dad was different. For one thing he voted for Harry Truman, when most Southerners refused to do so because Truman integrated the army. My Dad led the family in the daily prayer and discussion of the social gospel. Christianity without social action was meaningless, he said. In my first election I received some ugly descriptions, because I proudly voted for LBJ when most of my race would not, as he had signed the voting rights amendment. I had registered to vote at the Adams County Court House by only signing my name, while at the same time a man of color was being asked to interpret a complex clause of the Constitution. I knew that our Southern way of life did not treat Blacks as equals. On my wedding day Blacks tried to use Duncan Park for the first time and were met with Klansman with chains, baseball bats, swing blades, and guns. It marred that day, and I knew I had to help change the place where I was born. I could never pretend I did not know what was going on. I did not want to be living blindly.
Just thinking differently had its isolation. It was rare to find friends to openly talk to. Most were newcomers, FBI workers and their families, civil right lawyers, and COFO workers. There were other like minded Whites, Francis Trosclair, Father Morrisy, and of course, my hero Marge Baroni, my spiritual mentor. Marge was a convert to Catholicism along with my dad Tom Reed. She was highly intelligent with an open mind, heart, and home. It was at her home I met Dorothy Day, Lena Gitter, and many national people who made their way to her frequently bombed home. Old friends tolerated me, and just didn’t talk politics. This silence, or denial, was deadly. When the town was about to explode in violence, no elected officials were taking action. With Marge, I sent letters to all the MISS-LOU Black and White churches to invite Women Concerned about Natchez to come together. One hundred fifty persons came. Twenty-five were White, but they were people of strong conviction and prominence in the community - Grace McNeil, Anna Rose Metcalfe, and Gladys Smith to name only a few. I wish we had a sign in sheet just to remember who all came. Just coming to the meeting at night at St. Mary ‘s Cathedral in the midst of a town about to go up in smoke was scary. Inside the meeting, signs adorned the walls of St Theresa’s Hall with a quote from Dante’s Divine Comedy, “The hottest place in hell is reserved for those who in a time of crisis do nothing.” Our meeting the next month was cancelled because several new explosions took place. The National Guard rolled into to town with armed soldiers and tanks to keep order. The Mayor’s new grocery store on North Pine was bombed, his home was bombed, and several buildings on St Catherine Street were blown up. Marches continued asking for the simplest of actions, courtesy titles for grown ups, and Blacks on the police force. More arrests. Jails were overfilled and so bus loads of arrested Blacks were taken to prison at Parchman,
The fear that prevailed in the town is almost impossible for people to believe today. With more threats, I moved my children out of the front of the house. Attending a workshop at the NAACP headquarters was frightening. I volunteered to teach in the all Black public Sadie V. Thompson just to help overcome the distance between the races.
Encouraging Blacks to overcome their fear and, for the first time in their lives, to register to vote was difficult. The roots of their fear were old and deep. Unwritten in any Natchez Democrat stories, things were happening to keep the status quo. People were beaten in the middle of the night, killed and thrown off bridges. Some were picked up at night, stripped naked, and left to die in the woods. Others were threatened with bombs and cross burnings in the middle of the night. A Ferriday man was locked in his place of work and burned to death. Many were killed. Churches, cars, stores, and homes were bombed. Terrorism was alive and well in Natchez, Mississippi. As far as I know there are no recorded records of all these events, but there needs to be.
I saw fifty or so Klansman in full dress in their white hoods riding their horses around a giant burning cross at Liberty Ball Field. Their ugly deeds were whispered about in the White world, but caused fear, deep fear in the hearts of the Black world and in the world of Whites who stepped out of line. A riot occurred to allow one Black man to enter Ole Miss. From the pulpits it was usually silence. Any White minister who dared to challenge the Southern way of life was forced to leave town or suffered other consequences. Terrorism was tearing the heart and soul out of this town and all of Mississippi. Much that happened I don’t know, despite trying to know. Mississippi was the Closed Society, to quote James Silver, who was forced to leave Ole Miss for saying so in his book published in 1962
Just before this current election of November 4, 2008, I was told I should not vote for Obama because “under his rule the terrorist from ‘over there’ would be on our streets here in the US - just like Baghdad ” Well, my friends, they have been on our streets. A bloody war 150 years ago was not enough to stop the mistreatment of one race by another. The reign of terror from that war through the Civil Rights movement was not enough. But those laws did change some of the people. The fact is our country has elected the first Black U.S. President. Best of all they voted not because of his race, but for his character, knowledge, his record, and his temperament. Martin Luther King’s dream is coming true.
I think, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, we as members of the United States can celebrate that our country has changed. My family can all testify that the whole world is looking at us differently and with greater respect. The Declaration of Independence is no longer full of the shadow of hypocrisy. We are now a true model for the world! I can’t believe we made this much change in my life time!!