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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Did desegregation really work out for Africa-America? Not so much for my hood!

Imagine if you will the neighborhood that I come from. It is sometime between 1930-1960 in 5th Ward Texas. The area is bustling with growth, home ownership, trailblazing good schools, doctor’s offices, dentist offices, printing plants, photography studios, many entertainment venues, professional people, and little crime relative to today’s onslaught. There are current prominent people as well as those that would make their mark on the world that are proud to call it home: Julia C. Hester (Hester House namesake), Barbara Jordan, Ruth Simmons(The very first black president of an Ivy league school), Mickey Leland, Joe Sample, George Foreman, Lester Hayes, A.K. Kelly(Kelly Courts namesake), and Lightnin' Hopkins to name a few. If you grew up with me I am sure you could easily add a member of your family to this list.

Jensen drive was the place to be on the weekend. Many Negro artists would come to Fifth Ward to entertain, not Houston but Fifth Ward. People expected their children to do well and the community did well as a result. You got fruit on Jensen and Collingsworth, your shoes were fixed on Collingsworth and 59, you swam at Finnegan or Tuffly, and kids would ride bikes from Jensen to the railroad and Clinton to Collingsworth, then came the integration of the 1960’s.

Many residents moved away to pursue other opportunities. With this came the deterioration of the fabric of life that was pre-1960’s 5th Ward. Crime started to rise, families fell into states of unrest and the “hood” became notorious for being one of the most crime-ridden and financially retarded areas in the nation. This can be said about many predominately African-American areas that were prosperous before integration. Travel this country into old Africa-America and there are still people behind that have the oral history, the American Griots if you will. They watched their culture strive and build when insulated and watched it water-down and leave behind the have-nots when emancipated from integration. Did we really want to start to look out for number one in the 60’s? Did we discontinue being our brother’s keeper and becoming integrated soloist as a result of the good fortune of integration? Were we integrated when we really wanted an end to desegregation?

The world may be better as a result of integration but areas like the area that I grew up in are far worse. These areas were left behind. The Fifth Ward was a place where everyone took care of me as a child. I knew the entire neighborhood and they knew my family. They made sure that my family knew what I was doing and where I was doing it at. This works if your family responds appropriately to the intelligence. Now the yards of many of the people that took care of me are overgrown with weeds, the homes are boarded up or gutted, the city rarely maintains their part since the taxes collected from this area are far less than other less forgotten, more prosperous areas of the city. Buildings that were once vibrant with commerce or entertainment life are abandoned, the area bounded by Collingsworth, Russell, Liberty Road and Jensen Drive that was proudly once known as  French Town has been absorbed into the rest of the neighborhood as it lost its rich Louisiana-Creole/Catholic identity. People now walk down Collingsworth as if there is no urgency in their steps, almost as if they are seeking something that has been lost.

Desegregation helped many of us to get to where we are today; it also played a part in us forgetting where we come from. Many are reluctant to remember the history and the vibrancy of what was ours alone. It was when we didn’t commercial our culture or have a lack of color on our album covers and in our videos. We were once proud to be from the Fifth Wards of the world because it meant you came from good stock. Now many look down to those remaining as if they just haven't made it out yet. We were once happy to go down to Jensen Drive for the concert. We were once asking only that you desegregate, not integrate…we could handle that part. We are losing our own and clutching what belongs to someone else in our unfocused and unconscious effort to let our history die. There was once a time when other people copied us, now our young men wear skinny jeans and speak proudly of getting white-boy wasted. If the jewels of Fifth Ward could see us now!

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