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Portia Byrd

Portia Byrd

School Board Member & Millinery Store Owner

Born: Bartow, FL, United States
Heritage: African American

Simple Advice. Love on another. Love is the only thing that takes care of everything. If you love someone you won’t do anything to make them feel terrible or bad. You might disagree but it won’t be hurtful. Second thing is to be a good friend. Always be respectful of each other.

Portia Byrd

School Board Member & Millinery Store Owner

My name is Portia Byrd. I’m from Bartow, Florida. I was born June 8th, let’s say, in the 30s. What I may talk about might be offensive. It might make you feel bad or sad. I don’t want to make you feel guilty. You’re not responsible for the behavior of others. But after today if you do the things done to me I will hold you responsible for those actions, if I’m with you or not.

When I grew up I didn’t have any mix races in schools. I went to an all-black school in Bartow, Florida. My parents went to an all-black college in Jacksonville, Florida. I grew up with a family of readers. They taught me if I learn to read and read well there is nothing you can’t do. The learning process starts when you are reading and able to comprehend.

At the dinner table my two brothers and I would read comic books and newspapers. As I said, I went to the black school. I went to an all-black school. I should say, colored. That’s what we were called then. There is colored, black, African American, and there was the N word, which is more prevalent.

At the black school I went to, they bused in black students from all over in that district. I had wonderful, wonderful black teachers. They made you learn and did not accept any excuse for not learning. My motto: Use your intellectual ability and learn about everything you can. I said to myself, if I can use discipline for my own life and not show [an] example of hate, I can overcome hatred. I believe in passive resistance. I don’t believe in killings. You can have success without doing that. Words have power.

This is serious business. My father and mother were hunters. They would hunt for ‘coons. They would skin the ‘coon and dry the hide and sell it. One day my father told my brother and I to get under the bed. We didn’t know why. They took the guns off the shelf. They nailed up the window.

My mother and father sat in the living room in chairs with the guns in their laps. The Ku Klux Klan headquarters were 12 miles away. We sat there. My brother and I were there. Soon, the Ku Klux Klan rode around in the yard. They had hoods on. They had white hoods on when I was a little girl. I was five or six years old.

You can imagine what that was like. I was exposed to Shakespeare, Aristotle and we had to memorize poems and poetry, and also the Bible.

After graduating from high school, I was voted the one most likely to succeed. Later, I would have a millinery shop, a hat shop. I love hats. If you see me around St. Louis Park, or at McDonalds, I will have a hat on. I wear hats a lot.

After graduating from high school, I went to a black college. I graduated but couldn’t get teaching jobs, because I was black. I went to a family after school and took care of their kids and cooked and cleaned.

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Honoring Portia Byrd

If You Love Someone

If you love someone you won’t do
anything to make them feel bad
If you love someone you won’t do
anything to make them feel sad
When I grew up I didn’t have
Any mix races in my school
All my classmates were black,
don’t step back
Mother and father didn’t raise no fool
They taught me if I learned to read,
and read well
There is nothing you cannot do
My parents were right—without fail
And these words I give to you
I’ve been called by many names
Colored, black, and you know who
When they use that N word
I don’t know who they’re talking to
Show me the friends that you keep
Show me the books that you read
For today and years to come
I will tell you what you will be
From the back of the bus
To my front yard the Ku Klux Klan
Rocking with a shotgun on his lap
Father waiting to take a stand
Against the hatred we have known
Through love we shall overcome
That burning cross outside my home
Until all hatred is done
When you can do something good,
for someone
Don’t let that opportunity pass you by
Be it a stranger at your door, or someone you know
You’ll be rewarded each time
For the good that you do
For the life you might save
Brother Martin had a dream
May his dream be reality

Words by LARRY LONG with Ms. Hansen’s & Ms. Bailey’s 6th grade class of Cedar Manor Elementary
(St. Louis Park, Minnesota)

© Larry Long 2007 / BMI