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Dave Mitchell

I grew up near Boston in an all white suburb with little knowledge of African Americans or their history, mostly exposed to the common racial stereotypes of the early 60s. In high school a program busing inner city black kids to suburban schools was my first real exposure to Black people and culture besides some history lessons in class. At the same time I met a new kid in town whose Dad was railroaded out a Midwestern small city for advocating integration of the schools as he was the School Superintendent and at the same time there was the intense reaction to busing in Boston. This along with the civil rights movement and other social uprisings of the 60s politicized me so I began to study some African American history but what really opened my eyes was my experiences in Charleston South Carolina while in the Navy and then working at at a former rice plantation on the Ashely River. There, my boss was a young black man who brought me to his rural neighborhood to meet his family and the poverty was something I never imagined and I got a sense of what was driving the Civil Rights Movement. More important than that was the Black people I met, mostly at work, who were the most generous,accepting and loving people I ever met. There was my boss and his brother and the garden crew who I was farmed out to in the spring and most importantly the women associated with the plantation turned tourist destination who taught me so much about the Black Experience in America. Eliza, the granddaughter of a slave who still lived in a former slave cottage who always praised The Lord as she went about her work and Mary who lived next to the plantation house who cooked us delicious food and told stories of her life in the rural south and Mary who brought us local moonshine during special celebrations taught me more by their actions than words. The kindness and generosity extended to me by them, my boss and the garden crew blew me away even to this day and showed me how people who were treated so harshly we’re able to triumph and create a new culture to sustain their humanity.
Recently, visits to New Orleans brought a deeper understanding of how Black People survived and flourished despite the onslaught of 400 years of slavery and oppression. Cultural traditions from Africa,the Carribean, and Native Americans combined with European influences were improvised together just like Jazz to create a new way of life out of misery. Thank you Mr. Gates for telling us this incredible story and please, all who can,head to New Orleans and see the 8th wonder of the world.