By Bishop Michael Goings
As stated in last week’s column, I will be featuring excerpts from my autobiographical book, Growing Old in New Town, throughout the entire month of September. Again, I hope that these short strolls down memory lane will both enlighten and entertain you as they do me when I often embark upon them.
The Trip to Charleston
One of the most memorable trips that I experienced growing up happened when I was in the 5th grade. It was an educational and culturally enlightening trip to historic Charleston, South Carolina. Mr. Herbert Crawford had captivated and prepared me for this trip by expressing his fascination of Charleston and some of its citizens and their way of talking. They spoke English in the Geechee-Gullah dialect, an English-based Creole marked by vocabulary and grammatical elements from various western African languages. You would have to listen very carefully to understand what they were saying. Too many, including me, it sounded like a foreign language.
One of the things about this trip that had stirred both my curiosity and fear was the prospect of crossing the famous metal bridge. I had heard much talk about this man-made wonder that had put fear in so many because of its height and length. Coupled with Mr. Crawford’s notoriety for the use of hyperbole in describing this and many other things, I was horrified as the old yellow school bus (that could only travel about forty-five to fifty-five miles per hour) commenced its ascent upon the bridge. I tried to pretend as though I was one of the brave ones among the many frightened 5th graders who screamed and sighed. Perhaps it was just my imagination running away with me, but it seemed like the old yellow bus was struggling to make the climb to the top. When it finally reached the top and leveled and started to descend, there was an outcry and sigh of relief throughout the bus for we had overcome the challenge and fear of crossing the bridge and we were officially entering into the historic city.
Once in Charleston, we visited many historical places, including a museum and a market where some of the descendants of the original slaves and Geechee-Gullah people still practiced the art of basket weaving. I was fascinated by the many antebellum mansions that were scattered throughout the city, as well as the old red brick roads that added to its historicity. However, what moved me the most was the visit to the old slave market. Perhaps as I observed this piece of history, I thought about how many of my African ancestors had come through here on their way to a plantation. For a brief moment, I could see the ghosts of these many Africans who had just completed the most challenging journey of their lives, the “Middle Passage”. There they stood and waited, bewildered, baffled, and completely horrified by the hand that fate had dealt them. They had lost their homeland, their families, their culture, and much more. My imagination temporarily transported me back to witness this horrible and despicable act of man’s inhumanity. I saw Africans of both genders and all ages being auctioned and sold as mere animals. I saw the tears of many adults and heard the cries and wailing of children. Though they spoke in a strange dialect that I could not understand, I knew this babbling and gibberish was the corporate outcry of people who had been kidnapped, dehumanized, and put on display for sale to the highest bidder. By the eyes of my imagination, I watched as men and women were scrutinized for their build and size. These slave owners gave their humanity no regard or respect and further degraded what was left of their dignity. Stunned and angered by what I was experiencing in the world of my imagination, I was suddenly snatched back to the present. I would enjoy the remaining part of my trip to Charleston and would cherish the experience, excitement, and enlightenment of my visit to this old and very grand city, for it was the first city of historic significance and size that I had ever visited.
The Trip to Charlotte
The year was 1965 and I was in the 7th grade. This would be a pivotal year and would mark the end of one era and the beginning of another. I was 13 years of age, a fresh teenager experiencing the onset of puberty and my perspective on life had also evolved. Though I would retain my vivid imagination and tendency to daydream, I was about to take a giant step toward my destiny. Our class was scheduled to take an educational, cultural, and recreational trip to Charlotte, North Carolina. However, on this particular trip we would not be riding on the yellow school buses. Rather, we would take Trailways buses. This was a first for many of us, including me. I had never been fortunate enough to travel on such a modern bus with air conditioning and a bathroom. Again, as with the trip to Charleston, this would be an excursion that would produce enlightenment. However, unlike my visit to historic Charleston, which had afforded me a lesson about the past, this trip would give me a glimpse of the future. For the first time in my life, I would get to go to an airport and also go into a jumbo passenger plane. I was indeed awed when we were allowed to walk up the stairs like the passengers and go into the area that separated the cockpit from the fuselage. From there, we were permitted first to see the pilot and copilot and finally to see where the passengers were seated. Though it was an extremely farfetched idea, I could imagine myself flying and traveling on such a huge plane as this one day. From there, we went to the Charlotte Coliseum, where major sports and entertainment events were held. Again, I was fascinated to see and be in such a huge arena.
It was like nothing that I had ever seen before. It was so big with such a colossal seating capacity that I believe the entire population of the city of Dillon would easily fit in it with plenty of space to spare. Before we concluded with the visit to a park for fun and recreation, we visited the Museum of Science and Technology. There we would see many of the exhibits on past discoveries and future projections.
I was truly inspired, enlightened, and challenged by this trip. It took me to a city and place I had never been and broaden my horizons and views of the world. It would be the last excursion of that episode in my life and would forever linger in my mind and memory as the end of one era and the beginning of another.