Goodwin House residents remember George Floyd, years of civil rights activism


"What we wanted was to share our voices and what was going on outside and that [it] had us as riled up as they were."

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (WDVM) — Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads dedicated its Tuesday afternoon (including eight minutes, 46 seconds of silence) to George Floyd and other black victims of police brutality. Floyd was held down by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for eight minutes, 46 seconds before he died.

“What we wanted was to share our voices and what was going on outside and that had us as riled up as they were,” said co-organizer Margaret Sullivan. Sullivan is a member of the Silver Panther Huddles, a resident activist group at Goodwin House, founded after the 2018 Women’s March on Washington. The residents aren’t allowed to accept visitors, and with the threat of the coronavirus, it’s not safe for them to be organizing and protesting in large crowds.

Event co-organizer Carol Lewis says while the community hosts activities and events from time to time, the race isn’t talked about much. “I just would like to see it become the starting point for more discussion at Goodwin House about race,” Lewis said.

Lewis complimented fellow resident Marietta Tanner’s effort to organize more events at the facility. Tanner’s mother told her stories about white girls in her town that would say, “Dark clouds are rising,” as she would walk past them. Tanner has been protesting since the 1950s and remembers thinking Brown v. the Board of Education would “change everything.” It didn’t.

She believes the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford case, in which the Supreme Court ruled the U.S. Constitution did not include American citizenship for black people, set the precedent for white privilege. “I have experienced that feeling so much,” she said. “That feeling of, ‘You are going to be subjugated by me.'”

Tanner has many white friends. She had a conversation with one of them about all the privileges white children were afforded as she grew up. She wasn’t allowed to swim in the swimming pool, for example. “That’s why I swim all the time now, because I said, ‘Damn it! I’m going to learn how to swim because they didn’t let me in high school!'”

While the Civil Rights Act didn’t do much, Tanner has the feeling this movement will. “I feel this oppression seems to fade for me as I watch those white kids fastening those Black Lives Matter signs on Trump’s wall. I just feel so wonderful. It’s just a wonderful thing,” she said.

“Just because we were retired from paid work doesn’t mean we’re retired from caring and supporting others,” said resident Georgia Fuller. Fuller recalls going to school after desegregation as a little girl and leading a new African American student around the school. She also remembers the disgust of her classmates when they learned black students would be joining them. Fuller befriended the girl and introduced her to her classmates. “It wasn’t about race to me,” Fuller said. “It was common courtesy.”

Fuller is a Quaker and says the Quakers have spread the word about bystander intervention training. “The worst thing you can do is get angry,” Fuller said. “Say, ‘Did you really say that?’ or, ‘Don’t you think that’s rather rude?’ The best thing to do is to be calm and not let the situation escalate.

“The more I find out about racism the more I realize I don’t know,” Fuller said. “Every little thing that opens a whole new vista for me and I see all the things I don’t know all the experiences I haven’t had. Segregation has built walls around us so that we don’t know of each other’s experiences. I never knew of the experiences Marietta had and in my head I would like to think that’s in the past. But it’s not.”

Lewis suggests visiting the Southern Poverty Law Center to learn how to stand up to racism in your community. Here are many ways to respond “to everyday bigotry.” Lewis’ husband is African American and she recalls having to tell some friends that racism didn’t in fact “die out” in the 1960’s. “One thing I have dealt with as a white woman with a black family is very often people decide, ‘Well, it’s personal for you so that’s why you care,’ as if I wouldn’t care if I didn’t have a black family. And that’s not right. I cared long before that.”

Wayne Kelley, former newspaper journalist, has cared for a long time, too. He covered the implementation of the Civil Rights Act in Atlanta in 1966 while his wife Margaret was a school teacher in a newly desegregated school system.

“There was, on the surface, a lot of hope. But underneath everything was going back to the way it was before. Today, I think, is different. I think that more white people are involved. I think that the problems are better defined. It isn’t just the police. It’s education, it’s health; it’s jobs,” Kelley said.

Mrs. Kelley was one of 12 teachers working in an Atlanta community that had seen widespread “white flight.” She worked in pairs of two in a school that was 100 percent black. She taught French and English with “unlimited equipment,” and she says the reading scores increased dramatically by the end of the school year. The couple was transferred to D.C. the following year and Margaret says she didn’t have the same experiences in the D.C. public school system.

Sullivan says Tuesday’s event was a teaching tool for some of the younger or immigrant staff members. She said she wishes there was less of a fight to hand down to them. It was also a way for staff members to protest safely since they can’t assemble in large crowds for fear of contracting COVID-19 and bringing it into the community. All the posters and signs that were made for the event are now hanging on a wall outside the building.

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