Currently on display at the Hood Museum at Dartmouth is an exhibit entitled Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties. The exhibit intends to portray the turbulent and difficult times as illustrated in actual photographs, imagined scenarios, and abstract depictions. The Sixties were a confusing time of conflict, peaceful protests, and changing attitudes. The pain and suffering was real and the ghost of it still echos in my existence. For me, a white child of the 60s growing up in the Deep South, this touching exhibit was a powerful metaphor for my childhood. Yes, we have come a long way, but yes, we still have plenty ahead of us.
This exhibit seemed to capture it all for me: the defiance, the innocence, the unfairness, the absolute and unapologetic racism, the feelings of superiority (white) vs inferiority (black). This was a part of my childhood, not because we as a family embraced change or perceived the need for change. That wasn’t apparent to me until I reached the age of 10 (1968) when I began to grasp the unfairness and the hypocrisy and question the need to keep an entire race down.
To be honest, we had “help” and we adored her, Rosa. She was family to me, but I wonder what she felt about us. She was our second mother and she treated us like her children. We loved and respected her. We did what she said. She was our go-to person. We looked up to her. And, we kept up with her faithfully until the moment she died. She knew my children and my husband. She kept their pictures on her bureau at the nursing home. She was always a part of my life and I miss her even today.
But, none of this justifies the Thanksgivings she missed with her family, the Christmases she came and served our table, the dirt floor shack she shared with her husband and sister. None of it justifies the life she had vs my life that she made more comfortable and more secure, while her future was barren and her bank account equally so.
When I Googled the word “witness”, two things came up. 1. As a noun: a person who sees an event, typically a crime or accident, take place, and 2. verb: give or serve as evidence of; testify to. I am a witness to both.
This exhibit is powerful. Go see it. Remind yourself. It’s important.
For more information, including a gallery of some of the featured art, take a look at the Hood Museum’s description. And, when you have completed walking the display and digesting its contents, consider participating the the Race Card Project that is located within the exhibit. It will get you thinking.