The 'Our' Has Come

Published 4:37 pm Thursday, October 24, 2013

HAMPDEN-SYDNEY — Elaine Jones spoke the words as if they were a delicacy.

As if they were among the best words she had ever tasted in her life.

The keynote speaker for last week’s third annual Moton Community Banquet gave her voice to the evening’s theme, as if she were a minister announcing a christening.

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“Our community.”

And she paused.

“Our children.

Another momentary hesitation with deliberate intent.

“Our movement,” she said, giving each phrase the space to linger within its meaning among the 500-plus people filling Kirby Field House at Hampden-Sydney College.

“I love that,” said Jones, the first female President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund (LDF), which had been founded in 1940 by then-NAACP attorney, and later U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

The Moton Museum’s website describes the LDF as the nation’s “first and foremost civil and human rights law firm. From 1951 to 1964, Prince Edward County students and their families, backed by LDF attorneys, courageously led the nation in the fight for integrated public schools.”

For Jones, the banquet’s theme was love at first sound.

And love at second speaking, as she repeated its trinity.

Our community.

Our children.

Our movement.

Six words, three of them the same word and the one most savored in Jones’ emphasizing enunciation.

The crucial word:


“What is this our?” Jones asked.

“Our,” she said, letting the word stand alone like a monument.

“Webster tells us it’s us.

“It’s we.

“It’s inclusive.

“It’s all of us,” she said regarding community’s ingredients.

That is what “our” is.

This is what “our” is not.

“It’s not you.

“It’s not me,” Jones told them.

“It’s not them.

“It’s not he or she,” she said, her deliberate cadence seasoning the vowels and consonants.

“It’s us.

“It’s all of us,” she said, finishing the recipe and serving it up.

“The ‘our’ gives us a sense of community,” Jones continued. “It gives us a sense of pride.”

For Prince Edward County, the “our” came only after the rupture of Massive Resistance, which closed schools in the county from 1959 to 1964 in opposition to Brown v. Board’s decree to end segregation in public schools.

The “our” was not easy and the Prince Edward County community knows what it means to create “our” out of the cauldron of “us and them.”

Jones said, “It makes us know because we have been through something together. We understand travail.

“And we understand disappointments.

“And there have been times when we have disappointed and even hurt one another as a community,” she said.

“That’s the community,” she said.

The Moton Museum stands as an unambiguous declaration of the Prince Edward County community’s intent, according to Jones.

“You can see it,” she said. “It’s there. You’re not running away from it.

“What are you doing? You’re embracing it. You are embracing it and you are celebrating it,” Jones said, “because mistakes once made need not be made again.”

Our community.

Our children.

Our movement.

The “our” had come.

In time.