By Tia Lynn Ivey
With sore feet and the frigid air on her face, Parthenia Crawford Adams walked the five-mile trek to school each day as a bus full of warm white children would pass her by on the road.
“Rain or shine, we walked five miles to school and five miles back. On the cold days, you’d really wish to be on the bus with all the white children. But they didn’t have buses for us.”
It was 1936, and Parthenia, a lifelong Morgan County resident, was just seven-years-old when she learned how African-Americans were discriminated against in the South and throughout America.
“We were treated differently than the white school children. We had to go to different schools and it was hard to get there everyday without buses,” said Parthenia.
During her school years, she wasn’t allowed to ride the bus with white children at all. Once she got older, she could ride the bus, but she soon learned there was only one seat in back reserved for black patrons while the rest of the seats where for white people.
“If that one seat was taken, we’d have to stand, even if all the other seats were empty,” said Parthenia, who is now 90-years-old and lives in Godfrey.
Born in 1929, the year The Great Depression hit, Parthenia grew up during the height of segregation in South. Raised on a planation by a single mother, Parthenia, along with her older brother Oscar, worked the fields picking cotton and fruit.
From the age of 10 until she married at just 17-years-old, she worked in the fields with her mother and brother.
“It was hard work,” said Parthenia.
Parthenia married Evelyn Adams, a military man 12 years her senior.
“He served in the armed forces and earned a bronze metal,” said Parthenia of her late husband. “We passed away 23 years ago.”
The couple has eight children together and 14 grandchildren. Throughout her life, she worked at various stores, but was mostly raising her children and active in church.
“We lived a full and fair life,” Parthenia. But she experienced many instances of prejudice and discrimination as well as indignities due to racism.
“I remember job discrimination and educational discrimination. Housing was a huge problem. We couldn’t get nice housing and the banks wouldn’t loan to us” said Parthenia.
Parthenia has instilled in her children and her grandchildren the importance of education.
“I always wanted my children and their children to take the opportunities we didn’t have,” said Parthenia.
Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Parthenia took part in many Civil Rights meetings through her church, Springfield Baptist Church.
“I have been a member there since I was 13. My faith has played a huge role in my life, in getting through all the hard times.”
Parthenia remembers the night Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. was shot and killed.
“Oh, how it hurt,” said Parthenia. “We were home and the television was on when a special bulletin interrupted and we heard the horrible news.”
After the Voting Rights Act passed in 1964, Parthenia made sure to register to vote right away.
“At our civil rights meeting, voting was so important. We would talk about who to vote for and how to get people elected that would treat us better.”
Now in 2020, Parthenia marvels at how far the Civil Rights Movement has come, but warns there’s still far to go.
She never thought she’d see the first African-Americann elected president in her lifetime. “I was thrilled,” said said when Barak Obama won the presidency in 2008. She was particularly encouraged when African-Americans were elected to local positions. “I never thought I’d see it,” said Parthenia. “We have Mayor Fred Perriman and County Commissioner Donald Harris now. Morgan County has come a long way from when I was young.”
Parthenia’s advice for the younger generation is keep moving forward.
“Stay in school and get educated so you can have a job and take care of yourself and your family,” said Parthenia. “Keep working toward respecting each other and living to together in peace and doing what’s right. That’s what’s important.”