My mother has been gone for nearly three years now and I miss her more today than I did the day she passed away. It wasn't hard at all to come up with the best thing she ever taught me. It's one of the most important virtues anyone could ever have. My mother taught me to be color blind. I can honestly say that I never once heard my mother utter a single prejudice remark in all the years I had her.
To fully appreciate my mother, you have to consider this: I was a little girl growing up in the 60s in the Deep South. And not just in any city in the Deep South. Memphis, Tennessee is my home. Home also to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, two sanitation worker strikes and whisperings of local officials with possible loyalties to the KKK. I was surrounded by prejudice. The blacks had to use different water fountains, pulic pools, toilets and churches. Even the famed Orpheum Theatre had a seperate entrance and box office for the African Americans, after requiring them to walk five flights up to the Gallery to see the show.
To avoid his daughters attending school half way across town, my father enrolled my sisters and me in a private all-girls school which, at the time, accepted only white girls. He would not stand for any of his girls to have to be victims of busing - the transporting of public-school students to schools outside their neighborhoods, as a means of achieving racial balance.
Despite my father's and community efforts to teach me otherwise, my lovely mother made sure that I knew that people of color were no different than me. Be they black, Indian, Asian or Hispanic, we were all human beings. I can remember her stopping to pick up black ladies who were walking to the bus stop and offering them rides home. If my father knew that Mama was anywhere close to their neighborhoods, and especially with us in the car, he would have been furious. Sadly, my father was very much a racist. Thankfully, my mother was anything but.
Mama taught my sisters and me by example. Her best friend was a lovely black woman by the name of Julia. The best gift of all is to see Mama's legacy alive in the eyes of my own two sons. They are completely color blind and I can think of few other virtues I'd rather them have.