February 27, 2014

Local reverend discusses evolution of civil rights over 6 decades

James Bright, Managing Editor,
The Express-Star


It's doubtful anyone would dispute the world has changed dramatically since the 1950s. Economically and socially Earth has gone through, and continues to go through, a constant state of evolution. For many, this progression goes unnoticed and people go about their lives blissfully unaware of the changing dynamic around them. 

For men like The House of the Lord Church Reverend Vaughn Wand, these changes have been nothing short of mesmerizing. An Oklahoma resident since the advent of the Civil Rights Movement, Wand has had front row tickets to the evolution of the world, the country, the state and Grady County. He took some time to sit down with The Express-Star and detail the struggle and progression of African American's over the last 60 years. 




 "This is the decade when blacks begin to start confrontation. The movement was not joined, but there was unsettlement going on. The armed services desegregated in the late '40s and we started noticing that institutional segregation existed. The '50s was the decade when we began to say this is not going to work anymore. We saw the elimination of separate, but equal laws and the case of Brown vs. The Board of Education. That was a monumental step, but didn't solve everything. Before that ruling we would get left over textbooks from the white schools. It was a sign that things were beginning to change and we were chipping away at the institution of segregation." 




"This was a period of awakening. This was when the struggle was joined. Oklahoma was never known as a hard Jim Crow state, and prior to this time blacks in Oklahoma were largely Republican. It wasn't until the election of 1960, that we started voting Democrat. The Democratic Party spoke a language of change and we were engaged. Oklahoma didn't see massive demonstrations like those in Birmingham, or Jackson, but we had confrontations. They were small, but they were significant. Despite the ruling in Brown, there was still segregation. It used to be if you went to a white restaurant, you went to the back door for seating. People began sitting in dining rooms in spite of open hostility. The Civil Rights Movement awakened blacks in small town America. It taught us, we don't have to limit ourselves to the side of town we live on, and we should be allowed to participate in functions equally. Chickasha actually integrated its football program years before Lincoln School closed." 




"By this time the blatant discrimination in public places had been eliminated and the reality of change began to set in. This was the love decade. Legal segregation had been eliminated, but there were still centuries of segregation in people's hearts. Not everyone loved us and the love we had came with stipulations. There was resentment and we began to run into backlash. You could go into a movie theater or restaurant, but no one could make you feel welcome there. We had to learn not to react, but to respond with indifference. A reaction would cause an unnecessary confrontation, and we were there whether anyone liked it or not, so you just had to do what you came there to do. You could come to an event and just because you came in, people would get up and start leaving, or ask to be seated elsewhere. A black person may be able to afford a home in a particular neighborhood, but the neighborhood association would bring up rules and regulations to prevent you from buying there. A real estate agent may not sell to you, or a bank may not lend to you. That is what we faced. 




"This period brought about a decade of greed for everyone. The Civil Rights Movement had become comfortable. We took our eyes off the prize. We began to focus on ourselves rather than the struggle, but the struggle was not over. There was an entire generation that was unaware of segregation and just assumed the world was always the way it was in the '80s. Both whites and blacks had forgotten where they were from and both settled into an uneasy security. It was a truce more than a victory. The sense was some whites adopted the notion of not being able to do anything about us being there, and blacks would not try to take it any further than that." 




"The '90s brought a cultural identity into the mix. The Afro-centric movement was gaining momentum and many wanted a great ethnical identity. It was no longer about being identified as good Americans, the key was to be identified as good African Americans. This brought about a realization for both whites and blacks. We didn't know each other. Growing up, I didn't know what was threatening or frightening to whites. I just new segregation was wrong. Years of cultural and mandatory segregation had led us to this point. The '90s brought about many who were mainstreaming. There were black millionaires and black entrepreneurs. There were many who saw it as a threat and those people were confused about where it came from. It exemplified that many still viewed us as second class citizens, or almost like visitors this country."


2000 to current times: 


"In 2008, the election of Barack Obama exposed we have to discuss race relations in this country. It brought out an ugly side. It brought deep fears and resentment from the last four decades we thought were gone. With the election of a black president, we found the dream still needed to be alive. We need to no longer recognize people by their ethnicity or color of their skin. I would love to see the day when a man or woman could rise to power, and no one would care if they are the first black, woman or Hispanic person to hold the position." 


Moving forward: 


"We need to stop setting this month aside because it only further ratifies the institution of segregation. Our history is American history. It's intertwined. I would like to see us get away from having a month. Every day of the year is historical and every American should be celebrated, not tolerated. I was born here and I can't go back to Africa. America will never be perfect, but we will always be Americans."