From Chicken Soup for the African American Soul

Lord, When Will This Journey End?

Steep yourself in black history, but don’t stop there. I love Duke Ellington and Count Basie, but I also listen to Bach and Beethoven. Do not allow yourself to be trapped and snared in limits set for you by someone else.

Gordon Parks

Who am I? I was born in 1929, the year of the Great Depression. My birth certificate defined me as colored and colored people were considered second-class citizens. To be more specific, we were considered nonentities.

I was born at a time in America when colored people entered through the back door, drank from separate water fountains, rode on the back of the bus or stood up if a white person needed the seat. In some Southern cities we couldn’t walk on the same sidewalk when a white person approached. We attended schools for colored only, with worn-out, hand-me-down books.

I was born “colored.” I reached my teens and was labeled “Negro.” I looked the same, felt the same, so I didn’t give it another thought. Some even labeled me “Nigrah.” I reached adulthood and a twentieth-century prophet, Martin Luther King Jr., and his “I’ve Got a Dream” came along and labeled me “black”—black and proud. He said I was somebody. My mama had imprinted this on my brain since I was born; so I embraced this man and my blackness.

After Martin’s assassination, Jesse Jackson, an idealist emerged. Just as I had become comfortable with my blackness, he labeled me “African-American.” As soon as you could snap a finger the whole world took on this definition of me. It is true I have African ancestry. My great-great-grandmother, an African, was sold into slavery by her own people. A rape by her slave owner when she was only fifteen resulted in the birth of a baby girl. The baby grew into a woman, escaped slavery with her mother, was rescued by Native Americans, lived on the reservation, married and had six Native American children. One was my maternal grandmother, making me a mixture of African, Caucasian and Native American. I am not an immigrant in this country. I was born in America of American-born parents and grandparents, all of mixed heritage. Are we now expected to relinquish part of our heritage?

Who am I really? I have now reached the winter of my years. My feet are tired, and my body is worn. I have traveled a thousand miles, a dreamer. I have been called colored, nigrah, nigger, Negro, black, and now African American. I have been told to be peaceful, be a separatist, be militaristic, bear arms, be part of a rainbow, and all I want is to be recognized as a person, a person who has made significant accomplishments in a world that continues to try to define me. My life has been an instrument for good in a world filled with hate and divisiveness.

My time is running out, and all I want is to be me, a woman who has made her mark in this world. I want to leave a legacy, to those who come behind me, the new seedling that will emerge come spring. I just want my gravestone to read, “Here lies a woman, a person, who walked a thousand miles in pursuit of her dream and made it.”

Little seedling, keep on trucking, and never give up on your dream to be somebody in America, the land that all of your forebears had a hand in carving, and don’t let nobody define who you are and what you should be, no matter what your race, religion or creed.

I’ve come to the end of my journey, folks, and I am going inside now to escape the cold of winter. And I want to leave you with this message: “Don’t let nobody turn you ’round, turn you ’round, turn you ’round. No, don’t let nobody turn you ’round. Glory hallelujah.”

Myrtle Peterson

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