Friday, May 24, 2024

Uncover Your History With Open Eyes


Tiffany Mayes Eholor

My mother is black and my father is white. And I’m reclaiming my history — as a native Nevadan.

After watching the “60 Minutes” segment reported by Oprah Winfrey, I became curious about the grand opening of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala.

This monument documents the lynching of thousands of African-American men, women and children for 70 years following the Civil War. I was especially struck by the story of Wes Johnson, whose brutal 1937 murder was witnessed by thousands of Americans who celebrated in the town square while wearing their Sunday best to witness his lynching.

And? That was then, this is now. Remember where you came from.

My mother’s family moved out west from Louisiana in 1945, to the racially segregated town of Hawthorne, Nevada for employment at the Naval Ammunition Depot, which was established in 1930.

My great-grandfather, Manuel Gray, founded and organized the Hawthorne NAACP, which became officially chartered on May 22, 1955. Hawthorne, in Mineral County, was one of the three major NAACP branches — with Las Vegas and Reno as the other two in the State of Nevada. Manuel Gray’s son — my grandfather, Otis Gray — became president of the Hawthorne NAACP Chapter.

The United States Congress passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and business in Hawthorne, NV immediately abandoned their practices. In an article in the Mineral County Independent-News, my grandfather, wrote: “To those who said there would be trouble when public accommodations in this locality were open to all, we are proud to say that there has not been one single incident that has happened to bring about ill-feeling between the races in this town, nor do we or the law enforcement agencies expect any.”

March 31, 1965: The Mineral County Independent-Newspaper publishes, “Hawthorne NAACP Supports Plea for Civil Rights Bill”

The President and some members of the Mineral County NAACP traveled to Carson City, NV on March 22, 1965 to attend a Civil Rights meeting on the Capital grounds. Along with other NAACP groups from Reno, Sparks and Las Vegas; they gave their presence in support of passage of a strong Civil Rights Bill. Otis D. Gray, President of the Mineral County branch, spoke at length and said, “We have assembled once again as we have many times previously and for the same purpose. Why, when will, and how long will it take our legislators to visualize the need of strong Civil Rights Laws to protect its citizens against civil injustice.” The article goes onto to read: “There seems to be a “dragging of the feet” on the part of the legislators. Actions speak louder than a multiple of words. We wonder if they are waiting for a “Selma” in Nevada before they will recognize the past due need for this type of law. We hope that when this article is in print, the 31st of this month, the Nevada Civil Rights Bill will have been passed in the Senate.”

Nevada finally passed a state civil rights bill in 1965; it was neither the first nor the last piece of legislation that advocates urged Nevada lawmakers to pass to ensure equal rights for all Nevadans regardless of race or gender. State legislators rejected five previous attempts (1939, 1949, 1953, 1957 and 1961) on claims that Nevada did not need such laws. Nevertheless, one year after the passage of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, a coalition of supporters, led by the Reno, Las Vegas and Hawthorne Branches of the NAACP, succeeded. My grandfather led one of the four within Nevada. Nevada’s statute, as finally passed, prohibited discrimination in public accommodations and employment by race, color, religion or national origin.

My grandfather was, indeed, my favorite person to listen to growing up as a child. I would hear him tell his stories of traveling the world in WWII. I would watch him smoke his pipe on the porch of my grandparents’ house on breezy Saturday afternoons. These are the memories that I cherish.

My mother, the eldest child of Otis and Irene Gray, Lillian Ann Gray, soon became the first black secretary for the Administration Department for Captain Tetrick and Commander Bergman of the Naval Department at Hawthorne Naval Ammunition Military Depot.

She eventually moved to Carson City to work for the Government Division Bureau of Reclamation. She married my father and became a working mother of three and dedicated wife. I, the middle child, graduated Carson High School in 1996. I won the crown of Miss Carson City Nevada with the Miss America Scholarship Program. I was the first African- American to hold this title in Nevada’s capital.

Years later, when I worked as Harry Belafonte’s personal assistant in New York City, I would take my lunch breaks at the park subway station on 72nd and Broadway and chat with my grandfather on the phone. Living in New York was exciting, but it also had its lonely times. My grandfather would talk to me when I didn’t want to listen to anyone else. The history I mentally had to process while working for one of the most iconic social rights leaders in modern history, Mr. Harry Belafonte, at times left me numb with the sobering truth of this country’s history. It was my grandfather that helped me stay grounded in hope and love and humility at the young age of 25.

I’m so thankful to be present in a time in history where journalists and producers see fit to air global coverage of the United States’ dark, evil, sick, hidden history: slavery and the terrorism that controlled an entire class of human beings — men, women and children.

I’m speechless that so many people are either: unaware (captivated in psychological denial) of U.S. history; or still systematically traumatized (captivated in fear and shame) by U.S. history to the point that they feel unable to watch, talk about, or heal from the atrocities that this United States of America was founded on.

I do believe a new day dawns every day. Keep telling your story. My story is black and white communication relationship development, which traces back from before my conception. Truth always prevails. We owe this fact to our ancestors — all of our ancestors. No time. No space.

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