‘N’ word upsets African American substitute teacher

Justin Plummer grew up in the South during the 1960s

Justin Plummer, a long-term substitute, told students today about what it was like for him to hear of John F. Kennedy's assassination 50 years ago.
Justin Plummer, a long-term substitute, told students today about what it was like for him to hear of John F. Kennedy’s assassination 50 years ago.
   Students use the “N-word” all the time without giving it a second thought, but for Justin Plummer, it’s a painful slur that brings back terrible memories of a violent time in American history.
  “I do not like people, especially black people, using the ‘N-word.’ It shows a lack of respect for yourself and disrespect for history,” said Plummer.
   Plummer, an African American, is well known as a substitute teacher at Fremont High. He spent six weeks substitute teaching for video production and social studies classes during first semester and is a favorite substitute for many teachers at Fremont.
   Born in the American south, Plummer experienced the segregation and racial discrimination that was the law in Southern states from after the Civil War until 1965.
   Plummer, 64, lived in Virginia until he was 13 years old, when his family moved to New Jersey. His dad was a doctor who had gone to Howard University.
   Black and white people “never mingled” when Plummer was a child. Everything, from schools and restrooms to buses and lunch counters, was segregated by race, he recalls.
   Although his family was well off for African American residents of the South, “the time wasn’t wealthy,” Plummer says.
   He recalls buying ice cream as a youth, having to go to the back of the ice cream truck where he and his friends were served only strawberry flavor on broken ice cream cones.
   “To this day, I hate strawberry ice cream,” said Plummer.
   Racial segregation in the U.S. South meant that white and African American people could not use the same facilities and services. Under the “Jim Crow” laws, in place between 1876 and 1965, African Americans in the U.S. South were required to attend different schools and use different water fountains, and interracial marriage was prohibited.
   Plummer, who says he “never knew or talked to a white person until (he) got to New Jersey,” also says the memory of those very difficult days gives the N-word a powerful history that students need to understand.
   The term is not neutral, he said, adding that it has a violent past in American culture.
   Plummer has lived in Oakland for 23 years, where he appreciates the location and the people.
“The weather is the best, and the diversity is good,” he says.