African-American history has played an integral role in the shaping of politics, economics, and culture in the United States. Growing up, how did you learn about the accomplishments and struggles of African Americans? Were you in a classroom? Reading a book? Talking with relatives or friends? How has your understanding or knowledge of African-American history changed and/or developed over time? What do you think is the most effective way to pass along this rich and growing history to future generations?

Barbara Woodin

I lived through the Civil Rights struggles of the 50s, 60s and 70s. I’m 72, a white woman, and I remember being in an integrated high school, from which I graduated in 1958. There were no racial problems at my school, and a number of blacks were very active in student council, music, and sports. Although blacks were less than half the student population, we all lived together peacefully, although there was not the interaction we see today.

Toni Morrison, the Nobel and Pulitzer prize winning author graduated from my high school about 10 years before I did. I have been fascinated by her writing and watching her interviews on TV.

Although I was not an active participant during the Civil Rights or Anti-war demonstrations, the 60s and early 70s reframed my ideas and feelings about the times. A child of the 50s, I really grew up in the 60s, and remember watching the marches, rallies, sit-ins, and the different movement leaders – both Civil rights and anti-Vietnam war. What a horrible, yet memorable decade the 60s were! I sometimes wonder how we got through it all – the deaths of JFK, MLK, RFK; the brutal attacks of blacks in the South and the North; the ugly ’68 Democratic convention. Then in 1970 the Kent State shootings occurred, near my hometown of Lorain, Ohio, another climactic moment. It is so gratifying to see the times I lived through portrayed meaningfully and thoroughly in the wonderful series “African-Americans – Many Rivers to Cross.” All this has opened my eyes to a different perspective than the one I lived through. As I’ve grown older, I am a different person than the 22-year-old – I hope far more compassionate, understanding and empathetic with African-Americans’ struggles, indeed with ALL peoples’ struggles. And I’m proud that Barack Obama is the President of the United States!