Melva Florance

,
Melvacollage

I have always known that I walked on the shoulders of my ancestors because I grew up connected to both sides of my family. In total, I have 14 aunts and uncles because my parents have seven siblings each. My mother’s family is orginally from Kenner, Louisiana. Her parents died when my mother was 12 resulting in their children being split between relatives who lived in Mississippi, California and Ohio. The other side of my family has roots in Greensboro, North Carolina, and Caswell County, North Carolina, that go back to 1837 – however, the man who raised my paternal grandfather is not his father – thus my grandfather’s paternity is shrouded in mystery. My grandfather moved my grandmother and all their children to Ohio in the seventies, which is around the time my mom and dad met. I have lived with my great-grandmother, my grandmother and grandfather and almost all of my aunts and uncles at one time or another, which gave me a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for my extended family. It is within this context I learned about the accomplishments and struggles of African-Americans.

My great-grandfather founded our family’s church in 1921 in Summerfield, North Carolina, and because my family seemed to be tied to that church most of anything you would need to know would be found in that church – including the day I was baptised. You can’t be from Greensboro, North Carolina and not know about the A&T Four (1960), the A&T Dudley Revolt (1969), or the Greensboro Massacre (1979), but I didn’t learn anything about these events matriculating through the Greensboro City School system. There were so many elders around that the stories most people hear about in Social Studies or history class is directly related to my family’s history. It made it easier to apply history and make it feel relevant to me. For example, my grandmother born in 1931 and my grandfather born in 1930 towards the end of the Great Depression. 17 years old when she married my grandfather (1948). They had been married 12 years before the “Sit-In” Movement began. The A&T Dudley Revolt began on the Southeast side of Greensboro, but my father, who was 14 at the time, was about to meet my mother in Ohio. In 1979, I was four years old, riding the bus with my mother when service was suspended in Downtown Greensboro because the Ku Klux Klan killed five people in Morningside Homes.
I have watched my city, Greensboro, North Carolina, change and many opportunities we had growing up evaporated when my younger sisters came along – just a decade behind me. Opportunities for blacks began shrinking about 15 years ago and like my grandfather before me, I migrated to Ohio as well. I have been coming here since before I could remember and have attempted several times to make this state my home. It still amazes me as the rich history of Ohio and how important it was to blacks and now that I am here in this place surrounded by so much of my history I feel like I am exactly where I am supposed to be – experiencing history in context as I always have.

© 2013 WNET. All rights reserved.
PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.
The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross is a film by Kunhardt McGee Productions, THIRTEEN Productions LLC, Inkwell Films, in assocation with Ark Media.