Twitter screenshot via @ObamaWhiteHouse
Virginia McLaurin is 106 years old.
Which means she was 11 years old during the Tulsa race riots; an act of terrorism that burned the Greenwood District — the wealthiest Black community in the country (aka "Black Wall Street") — to the ground. 39 people were "officially" killed then. And "officially" is in quotes because other estimates place the death toll at closer to 300.
She was five when the Ku Klux Klan reemerged after launching in the 1860s and being largely dismantled by the federal government in 1871. She was also alive during the Great Migration, existed at a time when lynchings were frequent and weren't just quasi legal but were actually carried out by lawmakers, and was solidly into middle age when Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka finally declared segregation unconstitutional.
Everything we've read in history books (including things we didn't learn until adulthood because they weren't in any of our history books), seen in documentaries, and heard about from grandparents, great aunts, and great uncles about the plight of Black Americans in the early 20th century was lived through by her. Her life is a history. Her very existence a relic. She is a living heirloom; her every breath a testimony; a sermon proselytizing the agony and the beauty of our collective and continued struggle.
So imagine the feeling this dear woman must have felt when invited to the White House to meet our Black president. Imagine the joy shooting through her skin when touching Barack's hand and seeing Michelle. Picture the jubilance and mirth permeating her 106-year-old veins and joints and bones when dancing with the Black first family. Think of the glee coursing through her spirit when close enough to sense and smell the scent of Barack's aftershave and Michelle's shea butter. Dream about a 106-year-old Black woman dancing a dance that's been building, brick by brick, for 106 years.
This time next year, a new family will live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. They will bring new furniture to the offices, new art to the walls, and new pictures to the dressers and mantles. There are some of us who still, even now, believe that a Black family living there now doesn't matter much. That it makes no difference whether Obama or Clinton or Trump or Sanders is in the oval office, because they all represent the same thing. The same interests. And some of these people have or have had relatives as old as Virginia McLaurin.
If you do happen to be one of these people, and you're lucky enough to have an 87 or 101 or 94 year old relative still alive and still lucid, ask them how much it matters. Or, better yet, look into their century-old eyes — eyes that have seen everything from Malcolm and Martin to Theodore Bilbo and Bull Conner — and try to tell them it doesn't.