INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Feb. 22, 2016) – A Lawrence woman who lived through the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi is reflecting on her experience this February, Black History Month. She helped many people vote for the first time.
“I’ve always done, helped people in different ways,” said Ethel O’Neal who is now in her 80s. Many may consider her a civil rights activist, but she humbly declines.
“I just wanted to help people,” said O’Neal. “I felt that they had a right to vote and because they didn’t have an education wasn’t their fault.”
She vividly remembers her home state of Mississippi under the 1960s Jim Crow laws.
“At first blacks couldn’t vote in Mississippi,” said O’Neal. “Then they passed a law where they could vote, but in order to register to vote they had to read and interpret part of the Constitution.”
She says it was the system’s fault: “If I could help them read, most of them could interpret it after you read it to them.”
Decades later, her home is now in the Midwest, first in Chicago for ten years and now Indianapolis for more than 40 years. She has ten grandchildren and great-grandchildren nearby.
“My children I don’t think they have a full idea of racism,” said O’Neal. “They don’t see color, they just see people as people.”
She says society has progressed, but only to an extent.
“So many things that we went through, so many injustices that we had to live through, you know I think we’ve done a great job although we are still far behind,” said O’Neal. “I think there is a lot that need to be done and built upon but I think we’re moving in the right direction.”
Ethel said she’s always been someone to stand up for what she believes in, and encourages young people to do the same.