I think the first time I felt a sense of communal pride was in Miss Johnson’s first-grade classroom. The first thing students did to start the day was to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Surrounded by pale green walls, we stood beside our desks and faced the right corner of the classroom where the U.S. flag was extended from a brown bracket just above the blackboard. With our right hands over our hearts, in unison, we recited the Pledge.
We didn’t know why we recited the Pledge, and we didn’t know what all the words meant. We understood that it was important to speak loudly and enunciate every word clearly. When we recited the final words “with liberty and justice for all,” there was an exclamation mark in our voices, and I felt particularly strong and proud to be a part of something special.
Because we were too young to understand the effects of stratifications, there was no reason for us not to believe that we were just like everyone else. We were not aware that our race and our location in segregated spaces all over the South, in particular, meant that the promises of liberty and justice for all did not apply to us and people who looked like us.
I’m glad we didn’t know our places in the social and justice hierarchies. If we had known, I believe that it would have broken our spirit and dampened our desire to aspire to something that might seem out of reach.
Because we didn’t know the reality of the lie about liberty and justice for all, we believed our family and teachers when they told us that if we studied and worked hard, we could be anything that we wanted to be.
I’m grateful for our innocence and ignorance.