This month, Virginia McLaurin did what would have seemed impossible when she was born: The 106-year-old black woman visited the White House to meet the first black president.
It was an incredible, touching moment. McLaurin and the Obamas talked, they danced, and they shared admiration.
But most telling was one comment from McLaurin: "I thought I would never live to get in the White House."
There is a lot more going on in that statement than you might think. Consider just some of the things McLaurin has seen in the span of her life:
- In 1920, women obtained the right to vote in the US.
- Until 1950, lynchings were still frighteningly common: A 2015 report by the Equal Justice Initiative found lynchings of African Americans by white communities in the South claimed nearly 4,000 lives between 1877 and 1950.
- In 1954, the Supreme Court struck down legally enforced segregation in public schools through Brown v. Board of Education.
- In 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger — and helped launch the civil rights movement.
- In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his historic "I Have a Dream" speech.
- In 1964 and 1965, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act.
- In 2008, America voted for its first black president.
- In 2016, McLaurin met the first black president and his wife.
Simply put, the amount of progress on racial justice issues that McLaurin has seen is almost hard to imagine. When she said she was at the White House to "celebrate black history," she wasn't just talking about the month we're all celebrating right now — but her lived experience, too.