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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Time now for StoryCorps. Erin Haggerty was about to enter high school when her family moved from Northern California to Iowa. She was one of the only black teens living in her community. Using StoryCorps Connect, Erin told her father, George, about the challenges she faced in those years.
ERIN HAGGERTY: I remember being excited hearing stories about how cold Iowa was and, like, just trying to stick our heads in the freezer to try to get ready for it (laughter) to see what it might be like. And I remember getting to Iowa and just thinking there was just so much open sky, and everything was covered in white. It was really beautiful. But one of the things with a place like Iowa City, where the people are really nice, is that it has this false sense of security. But when people slip up and you actually see what's behind that veil, or you go to their house and you see a rebel flag on a pillowcase, it feels like such a kick in the gut and was really terrifying.
One of the things that has stayed with me was that people were constantly trying to touch my hair. I remember one time when I was sitting at an assembly, and when I got out, my hair was filled with staples. Someone had just stuck them all through my hair. It took me so long to get it out and I was just mortified and so deeply hurt because I knew all the people sitting around me, but no one stopped them. No one said, hey, someone's putting staples in your hair, you know?
GEORGE BARLOW: That is abuse. And I had no idea that you were going through that. I think I was just so happy that I didn't have to worry about you being shot at or chased down the street. You know what I mean?
BARLOW: When I was about in sixth grade, our elementary schools - they were always in white neighborhoods. And some of us walking home would walk across just the corner of these lawns as a shortcut. I didn't realize that we were actually stepping on these white people's property. But they realized it. At one point, one couple was sitting on the porch with guns, daring us to step on the grass. Never told you that, huh?
HAGGERTY: The grass is more important than you kids.
BARLOW: Yeah. So I was preoccupied with protecting you from that kind of thing.
HAGGERTY: You know, growing up, you raised us to be hyperaware of our blackness but in that awareness to really instill in us that we do belong here and that America is our country. Anywhere we go belongs to me. I remember one time when it was just you and me. And we're sitting by the lake, and you were just trying to get me to relax (laughter) because I had my collar button buttoned up all the way - and you just telling me that you don't have to worry about anybody thinking you don't belong here. This is ours, too. Even now, I hear that in my head. And I was just so lucky to have a father tell me my worth.
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MARTIN: Erin Haggerty and her father, George Barlow. Today, Erin is raising a family of her own in New York. Her father still calls Iowa home. Their conversation will be archived in the Library of Congress.
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