Hers was a life and work that touched many

Published 5:41 pm Saturday, October 6, 2018

By Yolande Robbins

The other half of the civil rights struggle of the 1960s were the white kids of that time — my age, now nearly 80, but in their late teens at the time — who knew that the things happening to blacks were wrong and had to stop. But they couldn’t say that at home to people they loved and who loved them.

Who perhaps had a Klan robe hanging in the closet.

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But over the decades since then, those kids turned into supporters; to friends and fellow protestors and advocates for change; to scholars and academicians who wrote the histories and had black friends.

But they were never able to defy the fathers who’d gone the other way. Or admit they had.

The funeral of Mrs. Lee Willa Miller last Saturday gave them the way.

The street in front of the church was lined with law-enforcement officials: people in the same imagery that once had been so feared. Public officials lined that street who were notably black that day, but weren’t public officials and were not able to be within the lifetimes of most of those present. There was hardly a block from the church to the cemetery unmarked by these displays. Many who held those positions now had not even been born then.

Though they weren’t there in large numbers, or in any numbers at all, a whole generation of white kids were present at her funeral. They hadn’t defied their ancestors, but they hadn’t embraced them either. They knew that they were wrong. But no one could say that.

That was the thing. The evil was real, but no one had done it. No racist word was ever heard at home, or even allowed, they said. And all relationships were loving.

Who, then, had done these things, and even then were doing them? No one would say. And southern sorrow was a mist with no real people in it. Now, though, that things have changed somewhat, they’re threatening again. We all see that. We all know that.

But last Saturday, what was public became personal at last. People who were tied to Mrs. Miller, whose lives they owed to her, both black and white, could see themselves in our salute to her; in the city’s determined tribute to her; in her family’s long love of her. Her granddaughter, Dr. Kenya Gaskin, after the funeral on Saturday, ran an all-day voters’ registration at her office to register black voters. Her grandmother’s work was going to go on. Her grandmother’s life would go on!

I went to Tuminello’s once, just once, to show I could. I didn’t know until her funeral that Mrs. Lee Willa had already been there. To make sure that I could. So at her funeral I thanked her personally and quietly in my heart.

I am certain many others of my generation did as well who know her story and will tell it all.

Tell everything.

Leaving nothing out.

Yolande Robbins is a community correspondent for The Vicksburg Post. You may email her at  yolanderobbins@fastmail.com