I’m headed south this weekend, to the deep south of Atlanta and Tuskegee, where I spent the first thirteen years of my life. It is Tuskegee’s homecoming and I’m going. Skegee we love you love you Skegee we love you love you, love you in the springtime and the fall. Skeegee we love you love you Skegee we love you love you, love you best of all.
You do not forget such words, such times in the football stadium stands, rocking forward and back in rows, side to side. A-men, A-men, A-men, Amen Amen. And staccato, this is section #1 #1 #1, this is section #1 #1 #1 where the hell is #2? (another group) This is section #2 #2 #2, this is section #2 #2 #2 where the hell is #3? And on. You do not forget the floats, the band, the drum major of the parade preceding the game. You do not lose your roots unless visited by brain injury. You may deny or abandon them, but I for one will always cherish the southern Blackness of mine.
Except for one of my good male friends, I have not seen any of my Tuskegee classmates since high school days. My mom decided to move us north, the summer of my graduation from 8th grade. It was like social death. So those first years I negotiated my way back to Tuskegee at Christmas and in the summer to see and party with my friends. Over the years, my close male friend has stayed in touch with all of us who graduated Chambliss Children’s House together. He returns for Tuskegee’s homecoming every year, though he lives in California. He’s never failed to let me know what weekend it is, keeping hope alive that I’d make it. And now I am.
But there will be pain too. I am also going to see the Lynching Memorial and The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Incarceration, both in Montgomery, Alabama. When I was growing up, my Mom and I took a 30 minute drive to Montgomery from time to time to shop for clothes, boycotting the White stores in Tuskegee. Not that they had any clothing retail worth walking into. But there in Montgomery, we encountered the Colored and White water faucets and the saleswoman with the drawl who said “Thank you Johnnie” to my mother, a familiarity that served up White supremacy.
I will bear witness now. To the magnitude of the suffering, the sacrificed, the funnels of loss, that I already cannot hold, that we have survived. My ancestors are not forgotten, the road is not forsaken. I will give thanks for them and Bryan Stevenson, the founder of EJI, which has institutionalized these remembrances. They will sear.
In the blue-black of that fire, my heart will raise a river, then deliver me back to the work.