The majority of people tend to think that the Civil Rights movement had drastic impact on the people that lived during this time of struggle for racial equality. And it would seem appropriate to think that all African-Americans had a role, big or small, in the Civil Rights Movement, one way or the other. Jeanette Motes, an elderly black lady that resides in my neighborhood, was not one of those people. 

Ms. Motes was born and raised in Kinard, SC and has lived in Laurens County all her life. Ms. Motes did not feel comfortable sharing her date of birth or age with me, and I felt compelled to not ask her of her education level. Her experience growing up as a black child may not seem any different from other accounts, but one can see that her experience is special. I had asked her what rights denied to her made her feel the worst and her response was “I was never denied anything that I couldn’t get. And if I was denied it was because of money. That was the only thing”. Although Ms. Motes did share seeing discrimination carried out in small Laurens County, she plainly expressed that she was hardly affected by it.

Growing up, Ms. Motes had plenty of friendships with black kids as well as white kids. Apparently, the black and white kids did everything together. “We did everything together. We played together, we went to each other’s houses, ate at each other’s houses, and stayed at each other’s houses. The only thing we didn’t do together was go to the same school. Now, I do remember walking to the school for black kids, I don’t remember its name, while the white kids rode the bus to the white school, Shady Grove school. But then, our school got cut, and we started to ride the bus to go the white kid’s school. “ Ms. Motes also mentioned that her mother cooked and cleaned for one of her white friend’s family who rented out a house to them.    

Ms. Motes recalled that when she was older, it wasn’t any different for her.  For a time Ms. Motes worked at people’s houses and then, later on, started to work at Greenwood Mills. Her black and white co-workers all talked, sat, and ate together. She even recalled having one special white friend from work whose husband would share his fish catches with Ms. Motes, and her family. Ms. Motes worked at Greenwood Mills for about 10 years.   

At first, when I asked Ms. Motes of her experience with Civil Rights, her response surprised me. “I didn’t really have anything to do with it. I stayed out of it. I knew what was going on but it didn’t bother me. I was busy working and taking care of my two kids.” Ms. Motes also expressed that she had no opinion of the national figure heads such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. “I would see them on TV. but I never met them or anything. I didn’t really think much about them.”

While Ms. Motes did share with me her indifference to the Civil Rights movement, she did share with me other details that did not escape her attention. She recalls how there was segregation in restaurants in Laurens County. That, however, didn’t bother her much, either. “If I knew I wasn’t supposed to be there, I didn’t see any point in going where they were going to hurt my feelings. If a restaurant didn’t allow blacks in, I didn’t bother even going near it”.  She recalls of one restaurant in Johanna that didn’t permit black people to eat in. Her husband would many times eat from there because of his job. It had a window in the rear where if someone, specifically a black person, wanted a refill, they had to stick their tin cup or thermos through the window to get their refill.   

 I also asked if Ms. Motes remembered any violent incidents in Laurens County or any national events that she remembered from watching the news. Ms. Motes stated that there probably were voilent incidents in Laurens County but she never took notice of them. And for any national event, all she said was that she remembers seeing them on TV but didn’t remember any specific ones.  

Ms. Motes’ experience before and during the Civil Rights movement is intriguing. Although I daresay that her account is not specifically special, her perspective and attitude of the Civil Rights movement and its correspondent events are actually of awe to me. On a final note, I had asked Ms. Motes about her feelings about racism and her words were that, although she knows it’s out there and that it could get pretty bad, “It has nothing to do with me.”

Ahira Sanchez