When Janet Goodman thinks about Black History Month, her mind immediately goes back to the local civil rights battles of the 1960s and 70s. She grew up during the time when blacks in Covington were fighting for equality, whether it was the right to eat in the same restaurants, work in the same stores or attend the same schools.
"My heritage is really important to me because I was brought up in an era when things were not good. I’ve seen and lived through the changes, they were real to me. Young people today don’t know what it’s like to have to struggle," Goodman said. "I’ve been insulted just because of my color. People deliberately mistreated folk because of race … I was taught to be proud from where I came from."
Goodman remembers being an instigator as a child. She didn’t like being mistreated and she let people know about it. While many blacks had trouble getting service in the local restaurants, Goodman never had a chance.
"They used to joke that you shouldn’t go to lunch with me. No matter where we would go they wouldn’t feed us. They (the owner and employees) would say something to me, then, I would say something back," she said.
She found it odd how some restaurants had a kitchen full of black cooks, but the food they made wasn’t served to blacks. When some of the younger cooks saw this they would quit on the spot. Goodman would encourage many to continue to work, because losing a job didn’t help their cause.
Many restaurants that did serve black customers, still made them enter through the back door. Goodman said that’s why the mom-and-pop Dairy Queen, which only had one entrance, was so popular — it put everyone on equal footing.
Goodman participated in a fair number of sit-ins and protests; she tried to be a thorn in people’s sides. She used to go down to the local shops and simply sit on the stools, even though no one served her. Owners would often remove extra stools or benches, even if it meant white people had no place to sit."If I had been born a long time ago, I’d probably be dead," she said. "But as child, I said this isn’t right and needs to be fixed. I thought in a small town you can help change that."
A turning point occurred when some protestors realized nothing was as effective as good old-fashioned boycotts. Once owners felt the pain in their pocketbooks they agreed to sit down.
While things slowly improved after that, Goodman said the pain of prejudice and hate remained.
"Once it became fashionable to treat everyone kindly, many people forgot about the misdeeds of the past. People who mistreat you forget, but you remember," she said.
Whether it was the man in bleachers who greeted her only with a racial slur, or the city employee who made her wait outside as a child, Goodman vowed she wouldn’t quit while she could help improve the situation of minorities.
Goodman’s always had a passion for politics, and use to campaign frequently for black candidates as a member of the Voters League and the Black United Front. However, Goodman never felt she was ready to run, but she was pushed and prodded and finally gave in before the 1978 election.
She wasn’t the first black Covington council member, but she’s been the longest serving member of any color in Covington, and among the longest in the state.
"They needed someone with genuine concern for citizens. They thought I could win and I had experience in politics," she said about her selection as a candidate.
Her most important priority over the years has been educating the masses. As a council member, she could learn how the city government worked and explain it to her constituents and help them navigate through the system.
Some of her earliest goals were to get the city to hire a personnel manager to address employee complaints, make MLK Jr. Day an official city holiday and beautify the entrance into Covington. She’s been pleased with the progress, and addressing housing is one of her remaining long-term goals.
For someone who’s so strong-willed, Goodman has often found herself gently nudged into situations she never intended to find herself in. After graduating from business college, she was prompted to apply for a job at The Covington News. Rumor had it they were looking to integrate the paper, and Goodman needed a job.
She said the first six months were hell, and she wanted to quit daily, but her mother urged her to keep at it. She would ask questions, but her co-workers would completely ignore her. As an advertising graphic designer, she had to teach herself everything.
Conditions slowly improved as workers left and new ones were hired — many didn’t carry the old prejudices. Oddly enough, Goodman said she never had a problem with the business owners she worked with because of her strong work ethic.
After leaving The News, Goodman moved to the Newton County School System. Once again, she didn’t plan to move there, but her friend was a principal at Porterdale Elementary, and he convinced her to take the job.
After a year at Porterdale, she moved to Newton High School in 1988, and she’s worked in the school’s media center ever since. Goodman didn’t think she would fit in the library because she was loud and outgoing, but the administrator told her they needed different people.
She did the best to make it her own.
Goodman knows the importance of education and strong role models. She said she enjoys working with children because it keeps her young and up to date with current events.
"You can reach people here. You get to see the kids grow and you often know the children better than their own parents.
"Sometimes I call and fuss at the kids. I’m stern but not mean. I don’t expect perfection. I want them to be teenagers, but I don’t let them walk over me," she said. "Kids need direction, but it’s the way you say it that can make the difference."
And while many of her students can’t understand the struggle Goodman and others endured, she still hopes to pass on some of the knowledge she’s learned from her years of experience.
Goodman doesn’t know when she’ll retire from school or the council, but she doesn’t expect it to be any time soon.
"Even if I retired, I’d still be busy. That’s what I do, go to meetings and stay involved in the community. At least this way, I get paid a little," she said with a laugh.