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This is the third in a series of posts by Freedom Riders in response to Barack Obama’s victory (see the other entries here.)

Margaret Leonard grew up in Macon and Atlanta, GA, and was a sophomore at Tulane University when she joined the Freedom Rides. She was arrested June 21, 1961, at the Trailways bus station. She went on to become a newspaper reporter and editor, as were both her parents, and worked at the Chattanooga Times, the St. Petersburg Times and a number of other papers. Today she is retired and lives in Tallahasee, FL.

When I was 12 or 13 years old, in the early 1950s, we had a family friend who had moved away from Macon and traveled around the world, becoming sophisticated enough to say anything, even very shocking things. He would come back in the summer to Georgia with his family and rent a house at St. Simons Island, where there were no blacks except servants, and servants were not allowed to swim in the ocean because the ocean was for us, the white people.

One summer my mother and my sister and I stayed a week with them at their rented house on the beach. Our friends had brought a bearer from India, an Indian man who was very dark, clearly not white. One day we drove over to Jekyll Island, which was undeveloped then, and found an empty beach where the bearer could swim in the ocean and not get caught. We swam there too, and I was aware that we were doing something dangerous. If somebody saw us swimming in the same ocean with a black person, we would all be in serious trouble. They would hurt the bearer and arrest us.

But nobody saw us, and later our world traveler friend explained his solution to the race problem. Somebody should lock us all up in a bedroom together (two at a time, I guess) and in a generation or two, there would be only one race, a mix. That was an amazing, shocking thing for anybody to say and I loved it. Of course, I knew, it would never happen. I didn’t realize then that it was already well launched. I didn’t know until a few years later that most of the people we thought were black were the mix, all shades. I didn’t know until 50 years later that I was kin to some of them.

For the rest of the ’50s and ’60s, I listened to people warning us against miscegenation, the terrible doom that would come if we integrated. I usually argued that nobody had anything like that in mind; all we in the movement wanted was equality, fair treatment, an equal chance at education, jobs, food, housing, the vote and the ocean.

We don’t have it all yet, but at least we do have miscegenation. In spite of the polls that predicted it, the election was still shocking and amazing. We elected a black President just because he was vastly, immeasurably superior to his opponent. And he’s not one race. He’s a mix. His mother was a lot smarter and bolder than I was, and Kansas was no doubt an easier place to grow up in than Georgia, but otherwise, she was just like me — same age, same confusion about whom to marry and where to live, same longing for different foreign places . . . Well, all right, probably not the same, but she was white like me, and he’s as much white as he is black. He knows us both.

Always, since I was born, we were two races. At the best of it, we tried to understand and help each other, be friends or at least work together, have some of the same goals, protect each other. But we have still always been black or white. Now somehow we got a President who’s both. It’s an amazing and shocking idea and by God, it happened. I wish my mother and father and sister had lived long enough to see it.


I grew up in the 1950s in South Carolina. My grandparents lived on an island and had black servants. It never occurred to me until this moment that I never once saw a black person in the ocean. I didn’t know that we white people had reserved even the ocean to ourselves.

Thank you, Margaret, for paying attention, remembering and reminding us of the depth and breadth of our oppression. How joyful now to recognize and acknowledge our common humanity, finally to give up trying to hold back the tide.

Posted by Sarah Robinson on 12 November 2008 @ 3pm

Great article. What really moves me is that, to this day, young people of all races still live in a type of racial bondage.

Some venture outside there race to find a mate but many more are too afraid. People were afraid to do so 50 years ago and they’re afraid for some of the same reasons today.

From now own, I intend to be free. Free to date, marry, and raise children with whoever I want.

I know that’s not exactly what you are getting at but that’s what I’ve learned from your story.


Law Student in Georgia

Posted by Law Student in Georgia on 2 October 2011 @ 11pm