VALDOSTA, Georgia (AP) – Roy Copeland I knew he was dressed "roughly", but I didn't expect a group of people to avoid him.
He was strolling downtown, something unusual for the African-American lawyer one weekend, when he met a group of whites walking towards him.
"They see me coming and almost get out of the way" Copeland said. "They literally rendered an entire sidewalk for me and, in my head, I'm kind of playing this game."
When he approached the group, about 10 meters away, people realized that they knew him.
"We didn't know it was you" Copeland they said they told him.
Although they did not recognize him immediately, he said he believed they noticed that he is an African American man.
But, Copeland That said, encounters with racial overtones can be experienced on the sidewalk and in many other places in the community.
The Valdosta native said there are divisions in the area. Although race is not the only division; the city separates the rich from the poor, as well as individuals raised in Valdosta from those who moved here from elsewhere, he added.
"Being a local, I practically know everyone in this city, rich and poor, and I can tell you, there are people who are racist in this community and they know it" Copeland said: "but in general, I don't necessarily know if that is the real problem".
Joseph "Sonny" Vickers, an African-American councilman raised in Valdosta during the period of segregation, said he believes that African-Americans are more inclusive today than in the past.
He said the progress allows African Americans to have seats on boards and authorities while getting more jobs, although companies owned by them have declined over the years.
Civil rights activists, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, faced the struggle for equality.
Brittany Bell, an African-American high school teacher, said the battles of the past continue as equality has yet to be achieved.
The three community leaders say how far they think African Americans have come since the days of slavery and share their thoughts on whether African Americans should stop the struggle for inclusion.
NO MORE "COLORFUL"
Bell recalls that he was in a store talking to an elderly woman – a white-skinned woman, she said.
During the conversation, Bell's husband ran up to her and touched her lovingly.
She remembers the woman saying to her husband, "You are lucky, because another girl of color would have knocked you out."
Surprised, and feeling as if the woman had taken her back to the 1900s, Bell he said he believed the woman was not being intentionally offensive.
While Bell continued the conversation after being called a color, her husband chose to leave.
"I think … I'm used to changing codes, and I'm used to being around a diverse group of people and being able to talk to a little bit of everyone, so when she said that, I wasn't angry, Bell said.
"I don't think it was ignorance. I don't think she didn't know that African Americans being called color are a little lost," said Bell. "It seemed innocent that she had no problem with that. It wasn't like a slip of the tongue. It was normal, good to say. "
Color is a historical reference once used to identify and label African Americans. Another word used was the word N.
Bell wants those words to disappear from conversations. For her, the word N still has negative connotations, although there are people who try to recover and redefine it.
African Americans mask this as a "term of endearment", although the language is true to its origin, Bell said.
Many African Americans are not bothered if another African American calls them the N word, but they are offended and irritated if a white person does that, she said.
"It's good or bad," she said. "You don't see Jews walking around calling each other Jewish insults. Nobody does that but us, and we have to rethink that. I think it goes back to the psyche of ourselves.
Having studied seven years ago, she compared the use of the word N when calling a child stupid. If done consistently, the child will start to think he is stupid, Bell said.
"The definition has not died. The definition is still there. That is why we are so offended by this," she said.
Changing the final letters of the word N from -er to -a does not give a new meaning, Bell said. The word has been normalized, not recovered, she said.
It is widely heard in hip-hop music and has been adopted by children when they speak, she said.
"Children use this not as a term of endearment, but when they get angry or want to kill themselves," she said.
"If we really have an honest conversation about that endearment, how endearing is it," Bell said. "I think it’s not that catchy."
The cultural issue within the community goes beyond verbal language and into employment.
Valdosta is very "who knows what kind of system," as there are several "names of money," said Bell. A person may or may not obtain deals, contracts or agreements like others.
“Does it look like racism? No, it doesn't look like racism, but when you start trying to see who has it and who doesn't, there's a problem somewhere, "said Bell." How these things are going, and I think the question needs to be asked, why do these are things happening? "
Vickers, on the other hand, sees African Americans excelling in winning positions.
He said there have been improvements over the years that benefit the African American community.
“The civil rights movement has made America look in the mirror. We have improved America, not only black women (historical figures), but other races have also helped America move forward, ”he said. "We are not where we want to be, but we are a long way from where we were."
Vickers recalls the 1960s and 1970s, when African-American firefighters were not allowed to drive fire trucks. Advancing to 2020, two African-Americans have served as fire chiefs in recent years.
Banks are also more diverse, said Vickers.
No elected official was dark-skinned until he and two others joined the Valdosta City Council in 1985. Ruth Kimball's Council was the first African-American counselor to precede Vickers.
He said he and the others were elected by districts full of largely African American residents.
"We have made great progress now," said Vickers. "We are not where we want to be, and I don't know if we will ever get where we want to be. You just have to look at the community and learn about its history.”
The story raised African-American leaders who urged the community to move forward, he said.
“We have a few more things that need to be done, but a lot remains for us to do a better job of supporting each other; help clean up the communities and help get the negative elements out of the community by saying something, ”said Vickers. "I believe that America is the best and the best place for opportunities, but you need to apply yourself to realize them."
Formerly a member of the Black Community Action Group, he and the organization challenged city and county leaders to open doors that welcomed everyone.
Several boards and companies also faced the same problem.
Vickers said that children today have more opportunities.
But on the topic of educating these kids, Copeland the referred levels of learning vary according to the races. Although he believes that parents are a student's first teacher, he said that a white child does not receive the same education as an African American child.
He offered the example of Valdosta Middle School and J.L. Newbern Middle School; one is predominantly white and the other is predominantly black, he said.
"I think it is an abomination, period. This is a disservice not only to students, but also to parents", Copeland said. “How can we sit at the same table if our students are going to different schools? I see a lot of inequality in that. "
He said he believes that teachers should be switched every two or three years to prevent schools from having predominantly black or white teachers.
Lowndes County needs unification in CopelandThe opinion of
He said that certain areas will never feel like they are inclusive because they are generated by income.
To formulate an understanding between the races, Copeland they said people should communicate.
At 6 am, some days, he has breakfast with white businessmen. The group talks about race, politics and other subjects.
He said that the time they spend together usually ends with the realization that people are alike with similar desires: a good life, a decent home and what is best for their children.
“I think the fear is really the unknown. People need to have open and frank discussions about race. They need to be honest about their fears, ”he said.
“For people who grew up in a very integrated society, in particular schools, which are well educated, I think that these barriers, in large part, have been broken down. I think the division is based on race, in part, and socioeconomic position. I don't know where the biggest problem lies. I know that race plays a role so far based on my own experiences. "
A long-term collector, Copeland He used more than 100 of his historical pieces to establish the African-American Museum of Copeland alongside his wife. The museum is located in the Thaxton Hall of the State University of Valdosta.
Opening the museum was a way of Copeland expose the community to history and encourage dialogue about people's contributions.
While activists like King are portrayed, heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, the pioneers of Tuskegee airmen, musician B.B. King and President Barack Obama are represented.
IS FREEDOM ACHIEVED?
The three community leaders pondered the question: have African Americans been released?
"In the physical sense, yes, but I think there is a lot of psychological slavery and a lot of it is self-inflicted", Copeland said. "Some of my colleagues at the academy talk about institutional restrictions, and my answer is that everyone in this country has an opportunity."
He believes that the battle is not over yet, because if it were, the current political climate of division would not exist.
Bell they said that while African Americans are not the same as other races, they must seek internally to understand who is really fighting.
"I say it means that we must find out what is keeping us from being awesome, what is keeping us from being great," she said. “Why are we in this constant battle with ourselves. Why do I have low self-esteem? … you have to start at home first.
There are many problems with giving up, she said.
Vickers said he does not understand why people say African Americans are still enslaved.
"I feel like I'm free," he said.
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