Green grass grows in Alabama like seaweed grows
in the waters that line the Southern shores. It
covers the cool ground like a baby's
blanket covers tiny feet.
For miles, as far as the eye can see, the lush, warm
colors invite visitors to sit or lie atop the
comforting natural softness. It provides pillows for
tired heads and beds for weary bodies seeking Southern comfort.
Unless, of course, there is blood on it.
I think I was born somewhere near the green grass.
My tiny hands must have pulled at its tender tops
while my small body enjoyed the coolness of the
dew that welcomed Southern mornings like fireflies welcomed Southern evenings.
I did not know there might be blood on it.
I took tiny measured steps in my great grandmother's yard
in front of the large wooden house that had stood
years of small and large people building lives around tough
times and insecure dark nights. The green grass was always there.
No one ever told me there was blood on it.
Long days at home waiting for parents and grandparents
to return from polling booths and church meetings turned
into long days in segregated schools, segregated doctor offices
and watching out for country police who didn't have moral values but had guns.
No one told me the cops helped put the blood on the grass.
News programs turned into nightmares, Sunday Schools
turned into burial grounds, sitting under rubble where little
books about Jesus, God, and Judas burned like kindling but still left us believing
we would all reach the promised land.
No one said we would be crossing the bloody green grass to get there.
Elementary school turned into middle school which turned
into high school where they bused my sister from one
campus to the other, passing our green grass to spend a
few hours walking across their perfectly manicured grass.
She knew about bloody green grass.
Childhood turned into adulthood and there
it was in every neighborhood I moved, the smell of
bloody green grass. John Fitzgerald dead, Martin Luther dead, Viola
dead, three students dead in Mississippi and don't forget Malcolm.
I now knew about the bloody green grass.
Green grass still grows in my Southern town although
history has been rewritten to show daisies growing
so thick that no one sees the blood, no one seems
to remember the smell.
Green grass will never look terribly good to me.
(In memory of Perry Small, my maternal great-grandfather, whose blood is on the green grass.)
Evelynn Ellis, D. Ed. is Vice President for Institutional Diversity at Dartmouth College.
Hanover, New Hampshire
July 23, 2014