TALKING TO MYSELF: 11 FEBRUARY, 2013   February is Black History Month, an annual nudge for me to re-examine some of the unique stories of Kentucky’s black men and women over the past two centuries. This year, however, I am startled to realize how much history I’ve personally lived through. After all, I’m barely eligible for Medicare, not old as Methuselah.

For example, not long ago I read that young blacks today are not aware of how recently people of their race were segregated in public places.  How could that be possible when the restrooms and water fountains at the Owen County Courthouse were clearly marked “colored” and “white” in my childhood? I also did not attend school with black children until I entered the ninth grade. I came of age with television news rattling names through my head like Selma and Little Rock and the songs of the civil rights marches.

And the night Martin Luther King was assassinated I was a young, first year teacher sitting in a motel with a busload of high school kids.  I’d brought them from Ashland to Lexington to participate in the state speech tournament the next morning at the University of Kentucky. The news hit all of us like a bomb, but the two talented black girls on our speech team were shattered.  I sat and held them in my arms that night as they sobbed, and fumbled for words to console them, but nothing I did could stop their tears. One of them, an especially beautiful girl named Sheena, said something I’ve never forgotten. She said that as much as she loved me, she would not hesitate to kill me if the revolution came. She was very young and overwrought with the histrionic emotion of that awful night, and I didn’t for a moment believe her. But her words gave me a glimpse into the pain she had absorbed in her short life.

Today, America has a black president, and while racial uneasiness has not been erased, segregated restrooms and water fountains have been. I haven’t seen Sheena since she graduated from high school in 1968. But I remember her whenever I hear young black rappers or smart-aleck white kid mimics casually use the N-word. I picture her somewhere, a classroom maybe,  making a prize winning speech on the danger of a short memory.



Georgia will speak at the Owen County Public Library in Owenton at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 23. She will speak at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 3.