“Integrating Baltimore Schools (circa 1960s)” by AJ Hayes

Illustration by Kira Coleman, BYP100 DC organizer and designer with MelaNation

When we first started MelaNation, we were driven by the incredible dopeness we witnessed from Black artists and writers in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area. There are many valuable and brilliant perspectives held by people in our communities, and MelaNation is a space where those perspectives are honored and uplifted.

We love working with artists and writers to uplift their work in the zine. In that spirit, we’re going to publish some pieces from our first three issues on the blog.

We’re starting off with the poem “Integrating Baltimore Schools (circa 1960s)” by the Baltimore-based writer AJ Hayes. Originally published in MelaNation’s third issue, this piece explores Hayes’ family’s experiences with integration while growing up in Baltimore.

ajarrellhayes
Portrait of artist and writer AJ Hayes (https://ajhayes.com/)

“White violent opposition to integration was not simply in the deep south – that’s the sanitized version of history we’ve been taught,” AJ Hayes says about the piece. “We’re rarely told the stories of the racism, bigotry and violence against Black people (including children) that happened in Baltimore and DC, New York and Boston in historical context with civil rights movements in the south.”

Through “Integrating Baltimore Schools (circa 1960s),” Hayes emphasizes that racism exists nationwide and manifests itself in different ways depending on the region and sociopolitical context.

“When looking at the widespread history of anti-Black policies and systematic racism as a USA identity — and not the misguided beliefs of whites in the south — you are less surprised and shocked about how educated northern liberals can be racist, how mass incarceration (especially in northern urban areas) is a tool of racism, or how the non-profit industrial complex purposely fails to help liberate the groups they claim to serve,” Hayes says. “I hope this piece inspires readers to look into their family history and to dig into their local history to see how it connects to liberation movements around the nation and world.”

AJ Hayes has written dozens of books and zines, and has work published in The Northridge Review, Queer Indigenous Girl Issue 5, and Permission to Write. The MelaNation team is excited to share AJ Hayes work with the world again. Enjoy “Integrating Baltimore Schools (circa 1960s)” below, and be sure to check out more of AJ Hayes work at www.patreon.com/ajh_books.


Integrating Baltimore Schools (circa 1960s)
by AJ Hayes

“don’t think you’re less than them
don’t allow them to make you feel inferior”

her parents’ words repeat in her mind
as chants of “no niggers here” echo in her ears

the walk from the school bus
to the school’s front doors is a gauntlet;

parents on each side screaming slurs,
spitting venom and phlegm on a 7-year-old girl

from baltimore, one of the first to integrate
their public schools. she’s not out to make history

(and she won’t; without a norman rockwell painting,
history forgets her; her trauma becomes family lore)

she’s just trying to go to school;
she just wants to be a normal 7-year-old girl

not the hope of deferred dreams
not the boogeychild of white nightmares

she clutches her schoolbooks close to her chest
they make a poor shield against assails from adult bigots

in class, she discovers their children are no better
spitballs and “stupid nigger” are how the white students

greet their new classmate. she sits alone, ostracized
by teacher and students. she hears whispers

of other kids, Black and alone like her,
in the school. she never sees them

if they could band together, they could make hell bearable
instead, they are phantoms isolated in torment

at home she is exhausted from carrying the country’s conscience
on her little brown-girl shoulders; who will lift her up?

isolated at school, misunderstood at home,
her anger and sadness crystallize into companions

a year later, she’s failed all her classes;
not because of her aptitude or grades

but because whiteness determined:
“niggers are too stupid to learn with white children”

the results: universal; the goal: turn Black children
into failures in order to prove Black inferiority

(remember: “don’t think you’re less than them
don’t allow them to make you feel inferior”)

she’s returned to her all-Black school, discarded by the state,
a year behind her friends, a year older than her classmates

to the rest of the world, the experiment had concluded
but her trauma didn’t end. her nightmares haven’t stopped

(how long will it take for her to heal?
who will sing her song?

who will be held accountable
for the injustice wrought upon her?)

 

— poem by AJ Hayes
— introduction by Jordan DeLoach

 

Wanna hear more from AJ Hayes? Follow them on Instagram and Twitter at @ajh_books, and support them on Patreon at www.patreon.com/ajh_books. You can also check out more of their work below: 

Website: www.ajhayes.com
Etsy: www.etsy.com/shop/ajhbooks 
Facebook: www.facebook.com/ajhbooks

 

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