Long ago, when I was a curious and less than adventuresome adolescent, I was sent to Louisiana to participate in the annual ritual of celebrating my maternal great-grandmother's birthday. Since our fathers and uncles were largely employed as red caps and/or Pullman porters at that time, we enjoyed and took advantage of the Southern Pacific railroad company's family passes program -- few of us could have afforded those trips home otherwise. It was my turn that year, to represent the West Coast branch of the family.
My parents prepared me for that visit to New Orleans with an itinerary that would include attending Sunday services at Corpus Christi Catholic Church, the Charbonnet family's great source of pride since my grandfather, Louis Charbonnet, had designed and built that great edifice as one of the last projects before he passed on in 1924. He also built the high school that stood adjacent to the church.
|Corpus Christi High School|
On the long train trip from the West Coast, I'd dreamed of seeing that structure, and made my way there on the first Sunday after arrival in that historic city.
Imagine the shock when -- after dipping my hand in the font of holy water and making the sign of the cross as folks were gathering for mass -- then entering through the heavy double doors to find the usher guiding me to the side aisle where people of color were seated. The middle section was reserved for whites, only! This, in my grandfather's church!
Oddly enough, I can't recall ever mentioning how that encounter with the system of segregation had effected me. Not then, not ever. Perhaps that's a part of the problem, and the why it is that we've never quite conquered it.
When such practices become normalized, they become embedded in the culture, and are no longer questioned. Maybe there's a lesson in there somewhere for what's occurring in this nation of today, maybe. A caution to be ignored at our peril?
That would have been around 1936.
That was then.
Now scroll forward to June 24, 2018, and though I'd not ever visited Corpus Christi again despite the fact that I've been home to New Orleans several times since then. Over the years the memory had grown to symbolize something abhorrent, and completely unacceptable. This time I was there as a minor character, though the matriarch of my huge family -- participating in our first ever Family Reunion (245 attended from across the country).
... and what an experience it was!
Read on ... .
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