Integration: A Forgotten Topic

 On Tuesday, February 23rd I helped our community celebrate black history month by conducting a program entitled Consolidating Lives: Integration in Shenandoah County at the library. In it I discussed not only the integration process but also the segregation system in this area. For almost two months prior, I conducted an extensive amount of research on this topic. During that time, and during the presentation, I realized several important things about the history of this important part of our history.

 

Photographs of the integration program.

First I realized how little had been written about both segregation and integration in this county. Many writers have covered topics like the Civil War, iron furnaces, German settlers, and churches. Some have even written about slavery and early racial issues. However, almost no one has analyzed race, segregation, or integration efforts in the 20th century despite the impact it had on our society.

 

This lack of coverage seemed to create a type of amnesia. The bulk the people I talked to, and the majority of county residents seem to have forgotten racial conflict, slavery, and segregation ever existed in this county. Even those who had lived through many of the events I discussed barely seemed to recall them.

However one segment of our society did remember. African Americans, only a small minority in Shenandoah County, not only had the memories needed to tell the story of segregation and integration, but they were also more than willing to share those with anyone who asked. They felt integration events were important and that the segregation system should be understood and interpreted. So they took efforts to make others aware of their memories.

 

 Picture of the historically black neighborhood in Woodstock about which many stores were shared.

 

The audience at the program reflects this reality. The majority of attendees were African Americans and almost all of them were willing to share their stories. I am sure this fact helped everyone who was at the program, including myself, leave with a better understanding of segregation and integration than they had when they came.

 

 

But the question remains, what about the others, those who have forgotten about not only integration but a host of other topics? Are we doing enough to interpret every aspect of our past? Will the people that forget ever see the programs we host, the exhibits we create, or the articles we write? How can those of us in Shenandoah County who like history help everyone, including ourselves, remember? Honestly, I don’t have a definite answer. However I do know one thing, we should always be asking the question if we are to truly understand how the past connects with our present.