“I am so happy… A black president, a black wife… and I’m here to celebrate black history month.” As I watched the exchange between our beautiful First Lady, Michelle Obama and 106-year-old Virginia McLaurin my heart got stuck in my chest. Tears welled in my eyes. To some, those were just words but I saw the childlike exuberance with which this woman danced. Her feet were dancing but I saw it was so much bigger than that. She couldn’t stop moving. It was almost a praise dance.
The event had to be life altering. Her words hit me hard enough to remind me of my grandmother and all of her dreams. She passed in 2011 but she was lucky enough to see our first Black President. Born in the south in the late 1940’s my grandmother would have understood Ms. McLaurin the same as I. Her joy was palpable. I started to think of what brought her to this point.
Virginia McLaurin is not your average 106-year-old woman. This woman is more active than some people my age. She still works, volunteering 40 hours a week at a local school. In 2014 she started her campaign to the White House in 2014 with a video on youtube, the video was followed by a White House Petition and Facebook page to help get McLaurin noticed and invited to the White House.
Her dream came true this month as President and Mrs. Obama welcomed her during a Black History Month celebration at the White House. You could feel the excitement as President Obama asked if she would like to meet the First Lady. Ms. McLaurin took off faster than you would ever expect her to go. President Obama could barely keep up, he had to tell her to slow down.
As she stood between the President and First Lady she danced, she couldn’t stop moving and the First Lady danced a little with her. The brief conversation exchanged was powerful
McLaurin: A Black President.
First Lady: (pointing at her husband) Look at him! Right there.
McLaurin: A Black Wife.
First Lady: That’s me.
McLaurin: Yes! And I’m here to celebrate Black History Month.
I cried. I felt her joy, I felt the joy that all Black people should feel when they see that image. We have come so far. Born in 1909 in the south, can you imagine the things Ms. McLaurin has witnessed and survived to stand toe to toe in the White House with America’s first Black President and his Black wife?
“I wanna be like you when I grow up,” The First Lady told McLaurin.
“You can,” McLaurin assured her.
McLaurin was born in 1909 the same year the NAACP was formed. Let’s look at some of what she has lived through in her 106 years.
In 1910 Throughout the United States, local ordinances were established to segregate neighborhoods. Towns such as Baltimore, Dallas, Louisville, Norfolk, Oklahoma City, Richmond, Roanoke and St. Louis etc establish such ordinances separating Black and white neighborhoods. That year 67 Black people are known to have been lynched
In 1911 the National Urban League was established in New York.
On April 11, 1913 the Wilson administration began government-wide segregation of work places, rest rooms and lunch rooms.
The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s and 30’s.
The integration of baseball by Jackie Robinson which led to desegregation in all sports.
The Civil Rights Movement and assassinations of all of our most prominent leaders.
Integration and desegregation followed by fighting for equal housing and employment.
And today, after living through so many periods and decades in a country that made her feel inferior. A country told her that people who looked like her and spoke like her about things that mattered to her, were sent to slaughter. A country where she never thought she would live to see the day where someone who looked like HER would be smiling from the steps of the White House. Not only did she live to SEE the day, she now gets to live to remember the day that she stood toe to toe with that country’s Black President and his Black wife. We should all be so lucky to see such change throughout our lives, to understand when we are witnessing history. To become a part of it.