Sep 28, 2011 Ken Jackson Uncategorized
As a child, I really wasn’t particularly fond of collard greens or their importance in the diet of African-Americans. Not only were they culinary, they also epitomized the “tough” of a collard green-stock of people, people who, as descendants of slaves, fled the South by the millions to the greener economic pastures of the North, whether on a track that ran from Mississippi to St. Louis or Chicago, or yes, even Syracuse.
General Electric, the candle companies on Wolf Street, Crouse-Hinds, General Motors, Carrier Corporation and many more: those were the glory days of Syracuse and Onondaga County, when the black population surged with residents familiar with the Auburn–Opelika area of Alabama. As they age, those African-American seniors could tell you right now how to get to Lafayette and where the Loachapoka highway leads.
These people are tough, post-Depression babies who had no government programs when they arrived in Syracuse. They didn’t relocate for food stamps or government aid. African-Americans moved here because of the tremendous opportunity to make a living wage and perhaps to obtain better educational opportunities for their children. Myself and many African-Americans in Syracuse share a certain kinship.
There are people I meet who’ll say to me, “you don’t remember me, but I remember your daddy.” He died when I was 2. My step-father married my mother and took responsibility for four young children. He was tough and hard working. Like collard greens, a staple — someone you could count on.
And while we were driven North, people in Syracuse like former State Sen. Nancy Lorraine Hoffmann and journalist Walt Shepperd headed South and participated in direct activities that resulted in African-Americans exercising their right to vote. Hoffmanns’ Civil Rights Connection still takes students to Mississippi and educates them about what “Civil Rights” is, and offers the perspective of meeting people who actually lived through the struggle. The Media Unit under Shepperd has since created an award-winning production called ”From the Back of the Bus,” which confronts youth with current contradictions of race.
The employment opportunity welcome mat was only extended so far. On the home front in Syracuse, African-Americans protested at Niagara Mohawk demanding employment. But if you were a factory worker in manufacturing you had plenty of chances for a better life.
We’re not that far removed from our past of being marginalized, relegated to poor educational options and low-wage jobs. For many black women scenes from the recent movie “The Help” reminds them of a time when many were “the help,” domestics doing day work in suburban homes when they were young and caring for children that became successful members of our community: Judges, publishers and leaders of business and industry. We, the African-American community, were “the help.”
We’ve been simmering like a pot of greens for decades in Syracuse. The last-picked, tough and cold, are the best tasting greens, plucked from the earth after the first frost. Seasoned and placed on the burner to cook, they become tender, loving, respectful and filling.
Ken Jackson is the editor of Urban CNY and a weekly columnist for The Eagle. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.