It’s been a long journey for Mary Young.
She’s been on this earth for 91 years. She was born in the 1920s, during the time when racism and jealously drove white mobs to destroy a black business district in Tulsa, Okla., that was known as the Black Wall Street.
She was born during a time when it was almost as common to see black men hanging from trees as it was to see them harvesting fruit from them.
She lived through a time when, if black people traveled by train, their traveling companion was Jim Crow.
“We were the last ones to get on,” Young said. “We had to get in the back, and had to wait to get on the train.”
“But a friend of mine later told me that the food [in the whites-only dining car] wasn’t any better, they just had plates and silverware. We had sandwiches, fried chicken, Coke, boiled eggs…everything,” she said, with a chuckle.
And she survived a time when, if black people even attempted to vote and have a political voice, they risked their own voice being silenced.
So when Young boarded the train from Jacksonville, Fla., to Washington, D.C. to see President Obama being inaugurated for a second term as the black president of a nation where, in the Deep South, black people once risked being killed if they even tried to vote for a white guy, it was hard not to see her as the embodiment of history and vindication of the notion that hope and action can inspire change.
That’s because Young, who worked as a secretary and later as a teacher in the Jacksonville school system for 42 years, was among those who hoped and who acted. She marched in the 1960s, as did others who were dear to her.
“My oldest son was at [Florida] A&M…he was put in jail for marching,” Young said.
Since she had seen many changes for black people in her lifetime by the time Obama announced in 2007 that he was going to run for president, Young said she believed the nation might be ready to elect a black Commander-in-Chief.
So in 2008, she helped to get out the vote for Obama. She did the same in 2012.
“I sent out a lot of literature. I encouraged people to vote. I had signs. A lot of people voted who had never voted before,” she said.