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Marysville sisters felt Martin Luther King's impact in 1960s
Northern California was a long way, geographically and culturally, from Martin Luther King Jr. and his headquarters in America's Deep South.
But even without Jim Crow laws and widespread institutional racism, all was not equal in Marysville during the 1950s and '60s.
The Pogue sisters — Barbara Pogue Roberts, 85, Carol Pogue, 81, and Sally Pogue Adams, 77 — remember hearing racial insults when they were children.
Camp Beale soldiers, according to Carol, introduced black residents in the area to more blatant forms of racism than they had experienced before.
"People carried their hatred here with them. We even had a cross burning out on Simpson Lane," she said. "A black man better not get caught out on the road with car trouble in those days. He might find himself in a whole lot of danger."
The three sisters were young adults by the time King's name came up at church and, later, on television.
As children, the sisters had been sheltered from much of what was taking place elsewhere in the country.
"You would get called names and things," said Barbara. "But ladies in church would talk about what they went through back there (in Southern states). We had it better than they had it in the South."
It wasn't until they were young adults and ready for the working world that they understood the extent of the racial divide.
"The workplace — that's where your challenges would come," said Barbara.
For a black woman, said Carol, "about the only thing you could do here in Marysville was housekeeping."
Carol completed a nursing degree and sought work at Rideout Memorial Hospital in the late 1950s.
"But I was told, 'We don't hire no blacks,'" she recalled.
Encouraged later by a local doctor to reapply, she became the first black nurse at Rideout and worked at the hospital for 38 years.
"Some patients mistreated me," she said. "They called me names and said, 'We don't need them you-know-whats. They ought to send them back to Africa.'"
The memory of that particular insult still gets all three sisters hopping mad.
"We didn't know anything about Africa," said Sally. "Our ancestors were brought here."
"America is my country," said Barbara, "and I'm proud of my country."
Barbara became one of Marysville's first black teachers. She had earned a teaching degree in the Midwest, where she lived for about 15 years.
Breaking the racial barrier here at home proved more difficult than she had anticipated.
It took nearly three years of low-wage work as an aide before an administrator saw beyond the color of her skin and accepted her qualifications as a classroom teacher, she said.
During the next decade, real change began to take hold, the sisters said.
"We heard a lot about the marches," said Sally. "You could sense the change."
King's March on Washington in August 1963 was the largest civil rights demonstration in history, and the speech that followed became legendary.
But three protest marches he led in Alabama in 1965 — the first of which came to be known as Bloody Sunday — established a real turning point for civil rights in America.
"He was bold enough to step out and stand up for what was right," said Barbara. "He was one of them special ones that God picks out."
"We were constantly watching and listening to everything that was being said about him," said Carol. "When anything came on about Martin Luther King, everyone was watching it on TV. And the more that came out about King, the more you knew things were going to change."
Over time, she said, those who were in support of King slowly became more outspoken, and those unhappy with the prospect of a fully integrated society became less so.
"Things started to change a lot for me on the (hospital) floor," she said. "I didn't get that name-calling anymore."
One white friend, Barbara said, "told me, 'It's about time somebody started fighting for you blacks.'"
Carol remembers the week that King was assassinated in April 1968.
"I heard all this crying at (Bethel AME) church. They cried at the Catholic Church for him, too, believe it or not," she said. "Martin opened the doors. And he made people start thinking."
CONTACT Nancy Pasternack at email@example.com or 749-4781. Find her on Facebook at /ADnpasternack or on Twitter at @ADnpasternack.