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.
“I thought he was going to win. My position was that the good Lord was for him, and that he was going to win if people just went out and voted. I said: ‘Go vote. Your vote might be the winning vote.’”
Young said she wasn’t surprised at all the hatred and vitriol directed at Obama during his first term, because racism still exists, and racists, “aren’t going anywhere until the Lord calls them.”
“Imagine them calling for a revolution [she was referring to the secession petitions] against any other president,” she said.
But now that Obama is in his second term, Young said she is looking forward to many things.
Among other things, she’s looking forward to women sporting First Lady Michelle Obama’s bang hairstyle in the same way women sported Jackie Kennedy’s pillbox hat in the 1960s.
“She set a trend with the sleeveless dresses. After a while, all of us will be wearing bangs,” Young said.
But most of all, she’s looking forward to seeing Obama continue to defy the legacy of racists who lynched and marginalized black people who suffered through the times she lived through.
I hope to see him do that too – by aggressively pushing for the hope and change that was his campaign mantra in 2008 and that emerged in the progressive values he laid out in his inaugural speech. Change that will, more than likely, continue to make this country a very different place from the one that Young once had to endure.
Hope that made Young don her walking cane, her mink hat and coat, and some glittery pink boots to make another journey in her life; on the train to D.C. to witness history once again.
“Words can’t express how I feel,” she said. “All I can say is that it’s the good Lord.”
“I’m not lucky. I’m just blessed. I feel amazing.”
Tonyaa Weathersbee is an award-winning columnist based in Jacksonville, Fla. Follow her @tonyaajw. Or visit her webpage and blog, “Tonyaa’s Take,” at www.tonyaajweathersbee.com.