Harvey Dalton Arnold is a Music Maker Partner Artist, and will release his first album on the Music Maker label on March 4, 2014.
When I think of black history month, and the struggle for civil rights, what comes to my mind is a snapshot of my hometown as a child. When the pavement at the edge of town turned to dirt, everything changed. The sidewalk ended, the houses were no longer painted, there were no streetlights, and the residents were all black. My sister and I were about eight and six when we met several black children the same ages that we were, also brother-sister, at the paved-dirt line. We played hopscotch together there for about a week, each day. One night our parents told us that somebody in town had “said something” about us playing with “colored” children and that it probably wasn’t a good idea. The next day we had to tell our new friends that we couldn’t meet them anymore, though none of us really understood why.
Meanwhile, my father would invite a black farm hand into our house to play blues on our piano, which I loved, but was also confusing to me – the rules about the color of skin seemed blurry. As a young child I experienced both sides of story of civil rights in my small town, but I didn’t truly understand until later what it all meant. I remember a Klan rally at the edge of town on a Halloween night, and hearing the commotion over loud speakers while we trick-or-treated. It was an especially scary Halloween; black people in our town boycotted the stores for a while after that. I remember the first day that two black students, Samuel and Roy, came to our previously all-white school in the late 1960’s and how everybody was determined not to be nice to them; things felt better very quickly when we saw that they weren’t all that different from us after all.
My love and respect for Roots music from early on rescued me from a racist heart, I truly believe, despite the segregated south and the confusing rules for interacting with people different than myself, that I grew up with. I haven’t been back to my hometown in many years but after these thoughts, I am going back soon, if only to see if the streets are all paved.