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Willetha "Toni" Carter

Willetha "Toni" Carter

County Commissioner and Friend and Student of Paul Wellstone

Born: Bestmer, AL, United States
Heritage: African American

I am going to tell you that whatever you do you should jump at the sun. No one can tell your story better than you can. You know about you. I know you know. You can tell and write stories about it. You can sing about it. Tell your story and jump at the sun. If you don’t make it to the sun, you might land on the moon. That wouldn’t be too bad either.

Willetha "Toni" Carter

County Commissioner and Friend and Student of Paul Wellstone

I’m Toni Carter. My real name is Willetha. My first name Toni is a nickname. I was born Willetha Parker in Bestmer, Alabama.

I bet some of you have heard about the Civil Rights Movement. It was a time when black people had to fight for the rights that are God-given rights for being born on this earth.

When we went downtown with grandmother to the movies, we would go and pay our 25 cents. We were made to sit in the balcony because of the color of our skin. When we would go shopping, there were dividers to try clothes on. My grandmother couldn’t go in. She didn’t get the same privacy because of the color of her skin.

When I came to Cleveland, Ohio, my mother and father got good jobs. They couldn’t find good work in Alabama to support us and put food on the table. The reason they couldn’t find those good jobs is because of the color of their skin. It gets redundant.
In Cleveland things got better but we missed our family. I had 63 cousins and grandmothers and aunts and uncles. We’d go back to Alabama every single summer. My parents would drive us down and then they would drive back to go to work, but we would stay. I would stay with one grandparent and go up and down the hill and visit uncles, aunts and cousins. It was really, really fun.

They had to go back to school in August. We had to go back to school in September. I would still be there, so I went to school with my cousins and it was really cool. My older cousins were the teachers. In the evening we’d see them at home. The older cousins made sure the younger cousins did their homework.

I would do homework real quick. My uncle would call me "Brains". This particular uncle was really fun. He had an artificial leg. He would strap it on to go to work in the coal mines. He would take it off to sit on the front porch. He’d tell us stories. He’d sing songs. He’d sing ditties. Those little stories and games we’d play were ways the African American community passed along information about things that happened in our history.

When I came to Minnesota to go to Carleton College, I met a very special person. His name was Paul Wellstone. What I learned from Paul is that we have a purpose and meaning in our life. One thing he taught us is about peace. He had busloads of students go South and help people vote. I hope many of your parents vote. I hope all of you will vote. I hope if you are new in the country, you will vote and be good citizens.

I met my husband at Carlton College. We chose not to live in Cleveland but in St. Paul. We have three children. They are all grown and doing well. I’ve worked for the telephone company. I’ve worked for the IBM Corporation. I’ve been on the St. Paul School Board. The latest thing I am is a County Commissioner.

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Jump Up At the Sun

Honoring Willetha "Toni" Carter

Jump Up At The Sun
(Honoring Toni Carter)

My name is Toni Carter
I come from Alabam’
I was born Willetha Parker
Not far from Birmingham
I bet some of you
Have heard about Civil rights
Not that long ago
When we had to fight
For the opportunity
To work and make money
To ride a bus, you and us
To feed the family
Jump up at the sun

Across the fence from Grandmother
A little girl lived
One day started visiting
Asked us to come in
But when we did her mother
Told my sister, “Go home”
Shooed her away, did not stay
Why I did not know
Until years later
Because her skin was black
Mine was light compared to hers
Never did go back
Jump up at the sun

5, 10, 15, 25
Angels at my door
Go on up, let them in
Knock ‘em to the floor
Why would you hit angels
Down in Alabam’
Those white sheets with dirty feet
Are the Ku Klux Klan

Threw us in the river
Hanged us from the tree
The games we play are a way
To learn from history
Jump up at the sun

With 63 first cousins
Living near Grandmother’s house
Did not have much money
But never did without
We never did without
Like Zora Neale Hurston
Reaching for the light
No one can take from me
These God given rights
Just like in Louisiana
When they hung a rope
The Jena 6 reminds us all
Some things are not a joke
Jump up at the sun

No one can tell your story
Better than you can
Tell it, write it, sing it
Do the best you can
You might land on the moon
When jumping at the sun
Always know in your soul
That you are loved
When it comes to voting
This is what I say
“Don’t stay home
Get out and vote”
On election day
Jump up at the sun

Words & music by LARRY LONG with Mrs. Tennison’s 4th grade class of Paul and Sheila Wellstone Elementary School.
(St. Paul, Minnesota)