|Minnie Bruce Pratt
Why I Wrote Walking Back Up Depot Street
I began these poems in 1981. I had recently finished graduate school, and found myself
living in deeply conservative cities in North Carolina. Though I had written poetry in
college, I stopped when I married a poet in 1966that being an era when a woman
married the person she wanted to be. But I had started writing again when I became
involved in the womens liberation movement, and had completed a poetry chapbook.
I was making my living by teaching in historically Black colleges. And I was a white
woman who had been raised in segregated Alabama in the 1950s. I had grown up in a town
where the water in drinking fountains was labeled by so-called "race," and where
the cemetery had barbed wire down the middle to separate white people and
African-Americans even in death. Until I began teaching at Fayetteville State and Shaw
University, I had never eaten a meal, had a social or intellectual conversation, much less
developed a friendship, with an African-American person, or any person of color.
At the same time, I was "coming out" as a lesbian, and was losing custody of
my children as my husband used the anti-gay sodomy laws of the state against me in court.
Suddenly I discovered the punishment that could happen to me when I stepped outside the
narrow boundaries of "womanhood" given to me by my upbringing. And I began to
think about, and feel deeply, what I might have in common with people from whom I had been
divided in the past, the ones I had been taught were "the other."
Right about this time, an event occurred that led directly to my beginning Walking
Back Up Depot Street. In Greensboro, North Carolina, five union organizers who were
holding a public rally were shot and killed by the Ku Klux Klan, on a public street.
Despite the fact that the murders were videotaped by a local TV station crew, the Klan
members were all acquitted by a local jury; their defense was that they had shot to
"protect" one of their white women members. The wives of Klan members
interviewed by the press said that yes, they knew their husbands belonged to the Klan, but
really, they didnt know or care what they did "outside the home."
It seemed beyond belief to me that such murders could go unpunished. Yet every week I
drove by graffiti that said, "Be A Man, Kill A Commie." I felt keenly,
furiously, how I was living within a system that justified murder, still, in the name of
"white womanhood," in my name! I rejected this system, I rejected my
place in it. But, having been raised to occupy that place, how did I change? And how did I
find the language, facts, ideas, and actions to replace the lies and myths I had been
taught? How did I make a "home" that was not based on my acquiescing to this
murderous system? How did I find the other people also committed to this struggle?
So in 1981 I invented Beatrice, who could walk back into the past and find the history
of resistance that I had never been taught, and who could walk into the future to show me
what I needed to do next.
from Walking Back Up Depot Street in English