By Juanita Floyd
All I wanted was an ice cream cone.” These words were spoken by Rose Jackson Flenorl as she delivered a speech during the Committee for King’s annual Dr. Martin Luther, Jr. Celebration. She told of an incident when she was 8 years old, while riding with her dad in central Mississippi, in the early 60’s. She noticed an ice cream store and asked him to stop and buy her a cone of ice cream. Her dad reluctantly stopped and asked the owner if he could buy a cone of ice cream, and was immediately told, “I don’t sell to ——-.” He patiently said, “It’s for my little girl.” The owner said, “You can’t buy it here.” “Sir, I’ll go to the back of the store, her father pleaded.” The owner yelled, “I said you can’t buy here! Get off my property!”
Her dad dejectedly got into the car and had to tell his little girl that he couldn’t buy her an ice cream cone. A mile down the road, he was stopped by two white police officers. He had to get out of the car. They said, “Why were you harassing the store owner? …” Who knows what might have happened, if one of the policemen had not looked into the back seat of the car and saw little Rose. The policeman said, “Let’s leave him alone – he has a little girl with him.”
I sat there listening, crying and angry for all of us who have had to face similar situations. I cried for every dad and mother who was humiliated and had to suffer, struggle and maintain their dignity through incidents like this. As a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle – for only a moment – just imagine your child asking for a cone of ice cream and being denied because of race.
Last week, I heard Brian Williams, founder of Step Afrika!, speak at Tupelo High School’s Black History program. He introduced the professional dancers, who all had undergraduate and/or Masters degrees from highly acclaimed universities. Because of their education, Mr. Williams stated that these dancers had other options in life. He encouraged the students by saying, “Whatever you start -finish it. Finish your education, and that will allow you to have options.”
Mrs. Flenorl could have been bitter about the incident that occurred – but she had options. Her parents instilled in her the importance of obtaining an education. She was the first black female named to the student Hall of Fame at Ole Miss. She is now a top executive with FedEx. She continues to accomplish her goals. Eunice Kennedy Shriver said, “Do it well, finish it properly, and move on.”
Her parents are like so many others who have encouraged their children to go “farther in life”. Two weeks ago, my cousin, Dorothy Ann Freeman, a retired educator, told me how her father, Willie Wade, had instilled in his children the same as my mother did – the message of hope and the message of getting an education. Dr. King said, “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope…
We all could be bitter and complain about something that has happened in our lives – racial and economic disparities, separatism, the inability to build relationships with each other, hatred, unfairness, etc. But we have options.
We can’t forget our past, but we certainly have the option to embrace our future with hope. We could teach and demonstrate to this generation how to bridge gaps; promote love instead of hatred; promote equality and justice instead of injustice; ease suffering instead of inflicting pain; pull our neighbor and community up instead of pushing them down; heal wounds instead of inflaming them more, etc. These options are available. Which will you choose? You be the judge.
Juanita Gambrell Floyd is vice president for Finance and Administration at CREATE Foundation. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.