JoAnne Bland: Conversation Transcript
Hello again, Baserange Community we are here the third time. Today we're gonna be talking with you wonderful Joanne bland.
How are you, how is the quarantine life Are you quarantining where you are?
Well we’re not really quarantined. Our activity is cut way down. I only leave the house when necessary.
Everyone, who doesn’t know Mrs. Bland. She to the civil rights movement hero, and we're very honored today to have her here and learn from her, learn the history and I having someone like you is a blessing. For someone like me who's from Rwanda, it's a rare chance that I meet someone like you. So even though it's virtual at least we’ll a conversation with you.
No I agree with those sentiments. I mean growing up in Texas personally I have had the opportunity to kind of learn about the civil rights movement through my own family and, you know, kind of my roots in Tennessee and you know, stuff like in a Deep South, but it is definitely a blessing to be able to talk to you a little bit Joanne and just learn a little bit more about my own path, your path, and kind of what we can all do, in the end to make the world a little bit a better place to the best of our own abilities.
I look forward to talking to you guys too.
Mrs. JoAnne what what keeps you going? What keeps you fighting for 50 years? You started at 11 years old, which is amazing to me that, you know, like you started activism, when you know when that's in the age where you a kid is staying home is taken care of. Life around you, kind of pushed you to do what you did. What keeps you going?
Sometimes I wake up thinking this the same time. Because things still not really where they’re supposed to be. So if I stopped struggling, I feel like I would never get there. And I'm thinking, social humans are like jigsaw puzzles everybody has a piece, everybody is a piece. And I think my piece is teaching the path so you young people can use it as a foundation. If you know where we’ve been as a nation, then you take where we need to go without making the same mistakes we made. And yes, we made some mistakes.
Right, and I bring up my dad. In our own podcast, we interviewed him about his own experience growing up in Tennessee, in the 50s, and he has his own stories to share as well and he always kind of harps on the lessons that he learned and like he said, passing that down to the younger generation, because he always tells him to listen, to ask the older people. You're not going to learn as much as you could if you just if you don't ask. And they always, like you just said, we all make mistakes, and in this particular situation I think it helps tremendously. Just to be able to open that dialogue.
I think so too. I think because of the blood of history that runs through your veins. Hearing how we grew up in the things that were happening in the so called free country, when we were growing up, then you can gauge how far we've come. It would be ludicrous to say that we haven’t made gains, but we still have gains to make. And what I like about today is that you guys seem impatient, because you live in this technical time where everything is instant, and I applaud you for that I'm so proud of you guys for being out there, for taking up the torch and realizing that we're not where we need to be. And if there’s any way I can help with telling of the story’s and teaching this history, I'll do it until there’s no breath left for me to do it with.
I'm not really leaving you guys anywhere to go after I finish right so maybe I can segue into something. Okay. (laughter)
I got me emotional because I'm a genocide survivor and I survived at a very young age. I was four. And I started sharing my story, I believe, when I was like, 23, and it was so hard for me to repeat, to go back and share it to people. And then I think a few years later, I felt really tired and I asked someone like, “Is it going to get better?” It was like, oh you, “you've got to just keep doing what you're doing, because you have to help the world otherwise, the history will keep repeating itself.”
And as hard as it is, knowing that it's important for younger generations for future generations to know to learn on your own mistakes, our past mistakes, not you know not repeat it, so just without also not. When the more we talk about it, the more people learn about it. Otherwise, if the history will be will be gone. So I really appreciate the work you are doing.
One of the questions I have for you is, when growing up. What are those stories you learned from your grandparents, that stayed with you and kept pushing you and also you feel like there's stories that your grandchildren need to learn to know that they keep the history going?
Well, my grandmother was the reason that we were involved.
My dad was staunchly against it. He used to tell my grandmother, that you're going to get my children killed. Don't send them down there. And he would go out the back door and grandma would push us put the front door and say go get your freedom. And we would go down to the church to participate. But, grandmother was strong and women who had lived in the mid-west and during the period in our history where segregation was the norm. Now I’ve since learned that every urban city had an area where blacks lived, where the Italians lived, where the Jews lived. And it was only when we left that area of love that you encountered craziness. So, grandmother had some sense of freedom that we didn’t have in the south. And then they call Detroit up north —.
(Internet connection lost)
I wanted to say that the nonprofit that we're all supporting today is the McCray Learning Center. We meant to put all the information into the Instagram Live Chat, but I'll say right now. And towards the end we'll be able to type it into the chat. So we can all look at it and check it out if he hasn't time. But welcome back, Joanne, again, and sorry for the technical difficulties and for the patient labor showing Oh,
(JoAnne is back. Conversation continues)
Grandmother didn't like white people. And in some ways, she taught us to fear whites, because she was say you have to stand up to them.
But she would else so tell us those horror stories of Emmett Till and others that didn't become as famous as others we heard growing up here in Alabama. About how people disappeared and we’d never see them again. How people had to be smuggled out of the state, so that they could live and they could never come back so therefore they never saw their families again. Those horror stories. And they stuck with me.
And I don't know I had a fear of whites but I knew that they were different, and she would she would always tell us That when we were in their presence that we were not to talk. She would say whatever had to be said. And it took me a long time to really understand that it wasn't the color of your skin to make people not like you. It was just that they didn’t like you. They didn’t have an understanding of who I was either. I didn’t know them, they didn’t know me. And as a kid I didn't understand how people who didn't know me could dislike me because of the color of my skin. We didn't really get, I didn't really get any cope(?) until Smith came in 1963 and I was about 10 then.
And I didn’t understand why they kept saying they were trying to get their freedom. And grandmother could always make me understand things. When I was posing I could ask her anything. When I asked her why are we fighting for something we already had it didn't make sense to me, how then getting the right to vote and all this and how it connected. I didn't understand any of that. Until one day, we were in front of a drug store here in Selma. And they're still there, by the way on the corner. On the same corner. Yeah, they had a lunch counter at that time. Carters Drugstore.
I wanted to sit at the counter but my grandmother said I couldn’t. She said, colored children couldn’t sit at the counter. That’s what we were called then. She said but one day it’s going to change. It didn’t stop me from wanting to sit at that counter even when I knew I couldn’t. Every time we passed by that store, I’d peep through the window at those white kids wishing it was me.
On this particular day my grandmother was talking to one of her friends, and I’ll never forget it. I was peeping through the window, looking at the white kids, wishing it was me. My grandmother noticed this and put her hand on my shoulder and leaned over and pointed through the window to the counter and said, “we would get our freedom. You can do that too.” I became a freedom fighter that day.
It was a different freedom that they were talking about. The freedom that would let me sit at the counter. That was my intro to the movement. That's how I started going down to meetings.
You understood that magnitude then right? You were 8 years old then. And you understood that, seeing these white kids sit up at the counter. And it must have clicked for you. And you were like, “Oh this is why this is important. Voting rights is important.” I can't even imagine that. I don't even remember why I was at or what I was thinking when I was 8 years old.
Well, I was arrested the first time when I was 8. Along with my grandmother. And then I was not the youngest, there were toddlers and babies. Or as we called them armed babies, that couldn’t walk. The mothers had to carry them. They put us into cell so I count it as an arrest.
At 8 years old. And that was legal?
Yeah. You got to remember who made the laws and who enforced the law. According to them, the women who had gone to the courthouse to vote were not there to vote. They were loitering. Because, I remember someone coming to the door and putting the paper on. And when we got closer I saw it said, “Out to lunch”. I remember thinking white people are sure eager. And because grandmother had just given us breakfast. They were already eating lunch. So, it also makes you realize you didn't understand that sounded like... they didn’t eat at the same time. Because its like 9 o’clock and they’ve already gone to lunch. So we were loitering, and according to the law we should have moved. And we needed to wait until they open again. The doors were only locked because we were there. In a public building, by the way.
JoAnne your fight, since you were 10, has made a lot of change because now, a young black person is - there’s still injustices, there’s still work to do. But I think your work did not go unnoticed, because now we can walk in, we can sit in those bars. In some some places at least.
Your fight the fight is not over, but your fight is not just wasted. And that's what I was gonna say, because now as your saying it, I'm thinking myself, you know, we are lucky to be in this generation, you know, like we have more privilege that you didn't grow up for you so we're not going to take them for granted.
And much, much richer.
But I wanted to go back really quickly to voting rights. And most of work is voting relating things. Do you feel like this younger generation Dydine and mine, our generation. Do you feel like we understand the importance of voting? Do you feel like we really get it and capture, once again, the magnitude and importance of voting?
That's not an easy answer.
Sometimes I think you do. And sometimes... well it depends on who I’m talking to actually. Obviously we're the crowd here that understands them, that understands voting.
But there are others who say, “My vote doesn’t matter. What did the vote get us? Where are we now?” Now I understand that too. As I said in the beginning, sometimes I feel like I'm paralleling those times when I was growing up because of all the stuff that has happened. But with young people I think it was deliberate. You were fortunate enough, son, to have your parents, your dad to talk in that generation to talk to you. Not everybody is that fortunate. Most people don't want to talk about the bad things in their life, the bad things that happen that brings up those memories. And I'm the exact opposite. I feel like it’s therapy. It's a cleansing. It makes me go on. And to make sure that this never happens to you again.
But I understand the children who say that voting hasn’t gotten us anything. We're still poor. We're still treated as second class citizens and the same police brutality that we experienced today we've always experienced as we've been on these new shores, but every generation thinks it's a new thing and they start over. Instead of building on what we have. Again that's why it's important to know where we’ve been as a nation, so you don't make the same mistakes we made and start over. And teaches you to recognize it. And that's what's wrong with some of the young people.
And I'm not accusing them or blaming them. I just wish they would reconsider. Those who feel that way. The only way we’re going to have any systematic change is to elect people who think like we do. If the person we believe was going to do that didn’t do it, vote them out. That’s power. You have the power to do that. And when you don't use that power, you're slapping me all in my face.
Thousands and thousands who fall. And even those who died so you could have the rights you also have. And I am extremely proud of the young people today who are out there
there, who recognize we need to be crying out loud until we are heard. And that's what happened in the 60’s. We didn't stop until we were heard. That's how we got the few gains that we did.
Now, today a black woman is running for vice president What kind of world are we living in now? That a woman, a black woman, a woman, that’s one strike, and then a black woman, that’s two strikes. So, it can even aspire to get in that office. But it also with the sign of the Voting Rights Act that gave Hillary to right the run too. Yes, white women.
That's what not taught. Yeah, that the Voting Rights Act wasn't a black thing, it just benefited us as a whole. But it was a people thing. Poor people of any color couldn't vote. Women didn't vote because society dictated that men took care of us then, remember? Except it wasn’t in the black family. The black woman had to get out there and work just like the black man. And had say so. Always strong black women. I had a conversation the other day, some people say they had TOO much to say. (Black Women)
Yeah, I don't think there's so much thing as too much to say!
Ever! Yeah, yeah. I like you.
I like you too!
That’s because it’s not taught to us that way. Even the movement that I participated in. When you read the books and see these documentaries and movies that I can’t stand. So don't even ask me about them. It looks like the man is leading all the time. It's like Dr. King was here everyday doing the Voting Rights struggle. Telling you, “you go here, you go there.” No, Dr. King might have been here six times out of that whole period. Selma was already organized and trying to get the right to vote for the citizens of it’s county 30 years before Dr. King came. But that's not taught to you guys. You know, it's just selective history.
I often wonder why we integrated the schools. Not, that it's not a good thing. But we didn't address the educational system. We left that same system in place. I integrated our high school here, junior high along with seven others. I had nothing. I had nothing in there for me. I sat up in school and learned how White America made America. And I didn't find out until much later that people who look like me made America. And you just took credit for it. It was your idea and I implemented. Or it was my idea and perfected it. You just took. So, all these children sit up the school for 12 whole years, and don’t hear anything about people who look like me. Because February (Black History Month) is a joke. Because the states set standards for what you're supposed to learn. And when February comes you may have one program. You may write a one essay. And you had that one or two days you decorate the hallways, in the classrooms. And then you give me three minutes to get from one classroom to another. Where do I read this? When do I learn this?
That's a joke. It’s really a joke. We didn't address that educational system that was a real mistake. And integration is fine, but we also have to integrate us the curriculum.
100% agree with that. And it make me think about a book. I'm not sure if you've read it, but it's a People History of the United States by Howard Zinn.
No, I haven’t.
That's one of those books that kind of debunks a whole bunch of notions that had been taught in schools and this and that, and it kind of sheds a lot of light on a lot of the truths that actually happened. Starting from the beginning. From Columbus “discovering” the US and so on and so forth. Through the slave trade... It’s one of those books that, I feel like it would benefit anybody who's interested in true American history to read. Definitely.
Right! And it is hard for people to get away from what they've heard all their lives. That it's always been that way. And I heard a lady this morning that said...she was voting for somebody that I'm not voting for because all she sees is people who hate America. No, we don't hate America. Because I am hurting and I'm crying out loud? I don't hate America. I just want America to be America for all people who are citizens and given those same rights. So why is that so hard to understand?
Most of us, when we hear about Martin Luther King, and the Civil Right Movements it feels like a long time ago. How does it feel for you? How do you feel when you think about it? Is it too far? Does it feel like a long time for you? And for people who have only heard about Dr. King, you might be the closest thing to tell us a little bit about him. Do you have something you heard when you were marching that made him special? And the following question would be, do you think, in all of us, we have that strength and power to make a difference in the world?
Let me go to the second part first. Don’t ever doubt yourself. You have that same strength that you call “my strength”when I was young.
Whatever the situation warrants, young people just step up to it. You don’t have that fear. You haven't picked up on that baggage. So don’t ever think you can’t, or that you aren't that type of person. Because you are. So you were born a leader, all of you. All over listeners. Because the first thing you learned how to do was to follow. And that's the first criteria of being a leader. That you know how to follow. So I you know can do that, so you are a leader.
Now as a kid, we could get close to Dr. King. I think it was because he missed his children. But we, he would always tell us to come to him. And when Dr. King asked you how your day was, you wanted to tell him EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING. Minute by minute, okay.
So he was a good listener.
Yeah. There were so many of us. We’d be (jogging) to get close to him and stuff. He always had a peppermint, and I love peppermints to this day. To this day. You know, the star-like ones. The red and white ones.
The little red ones. Yeah.
When you're in class it crinkles so loud. Everyone hears you opening it. And he had the softest hands I’ve ever felt in my entire life. His hands were so soft. Even my hands today aren’t that soft. As I grew older I realized he had never done any hard labor so... (laughter)
That’s where you were going!
And ironically enough, I don’t remember his voice like it is today. I know that’s his voice, but I don’t remember it. It was just Dr. King.
Dr. Abernathy was a charismatic person too. He's rarely mentioned. He was more like my my granddaddy. And Dr. King was just a star. You were around someone that’s really famous. Even my daddy talked about Dr. King. So he was a star. But Dr. Abernathy was more like your granddaddy, who dealt out discipline with love. So you didn't feel like it was wrong. He said it was time to go, it was time to go. He’d pat you on the head and you’d go out that door. Dr. Abernathy didn’t play. I loved them both, but Dr. King was special. His voice alone, when I hear it today I want to get up and save the world.
And you asked me earlier, what keeps me going. That's it, that motivation has been instilled in me since I was a child, but I don't know how to get rid of it.
No keep it.
Let me stay this: you know you (Dydine) talked about telling your story? The horrors that you had to experience. And I’m so sorry, love. But telling my story has been like a cleansing. The more I tell it, the better I feel. It’s like a weight lifting from my shoulders. Do not hesitate to tell your story. To share your stories. Because it helps the world. And that may be your piece in the puzzle for social change. Making sure nobody else has to go through that. And by telling your story it helps, okay.
You’re welcome, love.
I will take that along with me everywhere I go.
Because it came from here. (points to her heart)
Well Joanne, we wanted to use this time from this point on...for any audience questions. We'll have to scroll back through Instagram to see if the audience had asked anything. But we could definitely keep on talking. I wanted to let the audience know.
What are some of your earliest, happiest memories? Something that you can think back to your childhood and just immediately put a smile on your face?
My whole childhood. I had no idea that the rest of the United States who didn’t look like me, didn't grow up the same way I did. You know marching, hop scotch. Playing dodgeball, playing jacks going. Going to jail. I had no idea! What did I have to compare it to? When people ask me about that, I had a happy childhood. I was just born at time when this was happening, and if I had known 55 years from then I would be talking to you about it I would had saved visuals. I would’ve saved everything and written down every word. But I felt loved. The only time I didn’t feel loved was when I left my area of love. I thought everyone grew up like that. You mean you didn’t grow up like that? No, I’m teasing.
Personally I was blessed to have a very pleasant childhood and you know you saying playing dodgeball. Playing sports with your friends. Yeah, that immediately takes me back to North Dallas where I grew up.
So, God forbid, if this were the last thing that anybody saw from you or heard from you publicly what would you want to share? What is that key message that you want to express to everybody who’s listening?
Okay. Remember when I said, “Everybody is a piece of the puzzle to social change”? It is you that determines where your piece fits in to complete the picture. And is the picture complete because your piece is not there? No. That means you are the most important piece. And from this moment on, you need to carry yourself like you're the most important piece, because you are. You want more?
That was good. That was great! That resonates with me. For young people. And I think I can speak for a lot of people, and feeling like the work that we do, the work that Dydine does, the work that I do, and millions of other younger people across the planet. We want to know our work is validated or we want to know our work means something and it's going to create some sort of change. And it really is nice to hear, it's nice to be acknowledged and to know that we're not so different from what you were doing 55 years ago.
No, you’re not.
We just have cameras and we're talking to microphone.
I used to use the Memograph machine and now you just hit a button.
Or you can use that code language on your phone. Because everybody has one and within minutes you can organize. Where we had to work a little hard, but I want you to utilize those tools. That helps to make that pice even bigger doesn’t it? You’re fortunate to be living in these times. And I’m telling you, I say to everybody I talk to: white people have been silent for too long. Too long. They have seen what was wrong. They may not have experienced it, but they’ve seen it they knew it was wrong and they didn't say anything. I'm proud to see the date when I look at a march, I see a rainbow. It makes you feel good that finally my brothers and sisters whose skin tone is different than mine. They're out there. It's a rainbow of people and I’m proud of that fact.
And I thank the young people for realizing that there's a need. You know, some of the ones that don't realize it's a need aren’t doing anything. Those are the people you have to to convince. I'm proud of everybody who's trying to make their piece of the puzzle as large as they can. Thank you.
You just reminded me. I think it was a Holocaust survivor that said that “when you save one life, you save the whole world. But when you kill one life, you kill the whole world”, which means that it doesn't matter what color your skin or religion. If you hurt that person, that means you hurt everybody in the world. So we are really more alike than ewe are different. And when we always come from that place of unity and love and peace, we are helping each other. From my experience, the people who committed genocide in Rwanda really didn't have a beautiful life after genocide either. So when you're hurting somebody, you’re not leaving your soul alone. Your soul has also been hurt along the way. So it's more of like, we have we have to do this together. Otherwise, we're not gonna get anywhere.
You’re right. You’re exactly right. And I know those are tired words: unity and community all that, but it all depends on how you define community. If you define community as your street, your block, your city, even the United States. If someone's hurting in Japan I need to be trying to help them stop that pain. Before I know it, it could be here with me.
Yeah, that's pretty much it. When you look at what happens around the world how people hurt each other, the Holocaust, slavery, genocides around the world. It all has pretty much the same starting point. And if we get to learn where the conflict comes from, we're able to prevent it from happening to us. So, learning from everyone else and caring for each other. Not just our community.
I agree. I want to say thank you so much Joanne for joining us joining the bass race community, sharing your wisdom sharing your love and definitely expressing messages of positivity and progression, and that that's all the work that we do. I think that's all the work that the people who are in the comments and audience the work that they are trying to do so. Yeah, this is this is very special. And I think we can't thank you enough.
Well, let me selfish for a moment. First let me thank you guys for the work that you do. Around the world, whoever’s listening, whatever you’re doing to make the world a better place. Because I'm just selfish. I have grandchildren who need a better world.
I know I'm tired them walking out and I'm afraid that they may not come back. I'm tired of that and mothers around the world experience the same things. It’s not unique to us. It’s sometimes because it's so personal we think it’s unique.
But we need to get together, come to the table and put all the issues on the table, and start getting rid of them one by one. You guys are impatient. Each generation gets so far with one thing. And then the next generation starts over again. We've got to learn to record our history. And we’ve got to teach our children our history, so that they don't get bogged down, trying to do the same thing that we've already done. And that's the wisdom. Youth can do that and I know you can do that. I have confidence.
We can do it.
I love my world and everything’s that’s in it. Some of my brothers and sisters are just misguided and it’s up to us to guide them on the right path.
Oh, thank you so much JoAnne.
You're quite welcome sweetheart.