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Many residents in East Jackson were raised to identify as black.
T he stale, smoky air around Clarice Shreck heaves. She takes a long hit of oxygen from the tube under her nose. The pale woman with frizzy grey-streaked hair commands her on-and-off partner of over 20 years, Jimmy — who is from one of the few white families in East Jackson — to fetch her purse.
He plops it on to her lap; she struggles to get at an old piece of paper folded up in her wallet. She slowly unfolds it to present her birth certificate.
She looks up triumphantly, victory in her periwinkle eyes. The last known full-blooded black person in her family was her great-great-grandfather Thomas Byrd, her parents told her. Their stares follow her throughout their former home. They are the ones who told her she was black. Never mind that they might register to most as white by appearance, or that there is hardly a trace of black ancestry left in their blood.
This inherited identity most East Jackson residents still cling to and fiercely protect is based on where they were born and who they were told they are. It comes from a history rooted in racism and an identity placed upon their ancestors — and now many of them — without their consent.
East Jackson is, essentially, one long street off the highway after a stretch of green fields. There is no town center, just a cluster of dirt-paved driveways in front of derelict homes passed down from one family member to another. A stone bridge separates East Jackson from neighboring Waverly, a larger, mostly white town. Though some might say East Jackson does not exist on a map, a of places pop up on a GPS: the sole bar, owned by Jeff Jackson, otherwise known as Gus; his paving business right behind it; a convenience store; a handful of churches.
In the baptist church, a cluster of blond teenage girls sit together in a pew; older women sit towards the front, then greet the pastor, who identifies as black, after service. Five miles down the road, Waverly boasts field after field of lush farmland and well-maintained homes. With its drive-thrus, car dealerships, Walmart and a giant grocery store ased its own Starbucks, along with the sudden appearance of traffic, there is a sense of urgency compared to the quieter East Jackson.
This contrast is a byproduct of anti-abolitionist sentiment in Waverly that began nearly years ago. It was known to be anti-abolition and anti-black. It was also a sundown town, where black people had to be out of town by dark or face arrest, threats or violence.
Officials in Waverly created East Jackson by corralling any newcomer they deemed to be black because of their appearance, or by second-class status because they were laborers or housekeepers, into the smaller town. Some forced to stay in East Jackson were not black, but because they all lived in East Jackson, grew up together and were treated as black by law, a community that identified as black took root. They married across racial lines, and had multiracial children.
Over generations, as fewer black people sought this area out, black heritage thinned out. But black identity did not.
The town functions as a microcosm of what African Americans have had to deal with in America, says Dr Barbara Ellen Smith, a professor emerita who has spent much of her career focused on inequality in Appalachia. He told her he was Irish but also told people he was black. Her mother, a homemaker, identified as black, though the only reason she considered herself black, as her daughter does now, is because of her great-grandfather Thomas Byrd.
They sent Shreck to Waverly after the elementary school in East Jackson closed, just as all the families did. I think it was just where we had come from.
Until Oiler was born inwhen residents of East Jackson went into Waverly, they were not allowed to use bathrooms in town, her mother told her. Oiler says when she was in high school in Waverly in the s, even teachers picked on students from East Jackson, and seemed surprised when they answered questions correctly.
Those experiences continued well after adolescence. The first time Oiler went to a new doctor in the s, she marked black for her race on an intake form.
Furious, Oiler told her she was black, and that that was the end of the discussion. Oiler ticks off her black ancestors on her fingers: grandmother, grandfather, mother. Her grandma was half Native American and half black, and her grandfather identified as white. She says her other set of grandparents were similar: grandfather was black, grandmother was white.
Being treated like outsiders and identifying as people of color, Oiler and Shreck, like many in this township, have chosen to stand behind their identities. They do it proudly, despite having heard people refer to their community as trash and the slums as long as they can remember.
They say niggers. In recent years, some East Jackson residents have shifted their identity.
Until a few years ago, she lived as a black woman. She has even obtained an identification card that proclaims her new status, even though she has never taken a genetic test to confirm it. She looks over at her husband, Brad, sitting in front of the television, who has generally been quiet for the past five years after suffering a stroke.
Brad is paler than most residents in East Jackson, and would easily pass as white, but he is from a prominent family in the community which has identified as black since anyone can remember. But of her eight children, only three still identify as black. Four others, like her, identify as Catawba Indian, and her son, Jeff — who dons a dusting of freckles and a red afro — identifies as white. Oiler has a daughter, Janelle Hines, who identifies as mixed.
And this is how I figured out how to word where I lived when I was She knows this because she was on the phone with her friend while he screamed profanities and used the N-word. Shreck also has one daughter who identifies as black, and one who identifies as white, she says, sitting in her usual chair, with her walker and oxygen tank next to her.
The older mother and daughter pair share similar features — thick, frizzy hair, brown eyes, and olive complexions. When classmates asked why one sister identified as black and the other white, the younger sister would tell them they had different fathers, even though it was not true. The next day, Alison visits her family in East Jackson.
She lives a few miles east of her old home and lets it be known she is a resident of Beaver. They look white but say they're black: a tiny town in Ohio wrestles with race. Thu 25 Jul Topics Race Inequality features. Reuse this content.