What Unites Us

I moved to Memphis Tennessee with my family in 1972. My father was a professional football coach and had taken a job as defensive coordinator for the Memphis State Tigers. We settled into a new track home in the Memphis suburbs of Germantown, Tennessee.

This was the first year of forced bussing to integrate the public schools. I was entering 9th grade, the first year of high school, at Germantown High (GHS). GHS was the best public school in the Memphis area, and as such, was ground zero for school bussing. The bussing program meant that our school’s busses started in the outlying rural areas where they picked up the Black kids first. By the time they got to my neighborhood, every seat on the bus was ‘filled’ with one young Black man or woman. As you boarded the bus, you would have to ask, “Can I sit here? Will you move over a little?”

Some would say no, with or without looking at you. Others would raise their head, look you over, and then place their head back in the crook of their arm. Never saying a word or moving an inch.

As you moved down the aisle, others would look you up and down sloooowly, then ever so much more slowly move over two or three inches, letting you perch yourself on the edge of the seat. I can see clearly now that these reactions were part protest, part preemptive defense, but as a young teenage girl they just sucked. They meant that every weekday started as a challenge.

Many in America remain reluctant to share a seat with anyone too different from themselves. Many in America have no grace to offer those they think they do not understand. Many in America continue to focus on and motivate what divides us rather than honor our commonality. This will not make us great.

In the context of the current political climate, one in which the President of the United States is a divider, and defender of prejudice and hate, it seems particularly important to strive to forgive the slights (intended or not) and never forget our history with respect to race. One of the clear lessons across the arch of time has been, that if you are ignorant of your history, you are destined to repeat it.

Lori LeachmanComment