Saturday, January 19, 2013

He inspired us as a nation and a world but we were the ones that changed the world 
I've heard so many criticisms of the Martin Luther King Holiday. "It's a black holiday." "They've got their own holiday." You've heard them and you may have been one who has criticized the holiday.
St Patrick's Day is evidence that we don't mind celebrating culture and ethnicity even when it may be a culture or ethnic group that we aren't part of. But if you think the King Holiday is all about ethnicity you are dead wrong. The movement which led to this celebration was prompted by racial injustice but where it has led us to is far beyond race. It certainly has much to do with culture. The culture in which we participate is far better today than it once was.
I am certain that every one of us has benefited from the consequences of Martin Luther King's efforts. There are many things that may not have happened if not for passage of the Civil Rights Bill. At least some of my own benefits were rooted from racial injustice. I will tell you about it now.
When I was four or five years old my older brother would catch a school bus well before daylight. The school bus was an orange panel truck (prelude to suv). It was very early but he had a ways to go to get to school. You see, there was no high school in Cumberland County for Native Americans so he went to school at the Eastern Carolina Indian School deep into Sampson County.
Before going there he went to Cade Hill School for Indians. Cade Hill was a one room wooden structure on a rutted dirt road near the Cape Fear River. It had a wood stove for heat, an out-house for restroom and an outside well. I went past there just a few weeks ago to show it to my daughter but it had been torn down. Some of the brick that the structure rested on are all that remain.
I've heard my brother, older sisters and cousins laugh about when they would go to the movies. They would all put their hands together to determine whose skin was the lightest. The fairest pigmented person would be responsible for buying the movie tickets to prevent being told they were unwelcome in the main lobby or main auditorium. Otherwise they would have to sit in the balcony. All African-Americans were required to sit in the balcony but as Indians, it was difficult to determine where you fit in society. The place you felt welcome one day may have felt entirely different the next day.
As I came along things were changing fast, much of it due to Martin Luther King, Jr's movement. Laws had changed but attitudes remained stubborn. I had no problem getting into the theatre's main auditorium but my twin brother and I were watched closely when we would go the theatre alone, even being reprimanded once when we got excited when the Indians in the westen movie won a battle.
There were several tobacco markets near our house and in the suummer when tobbaco would come to market we would get excited because it created a lot of activity in an otherwise boring neighborhood. Trucks would line up for blocks to carry their tobacco into the market. That freshly roasted tobacco smelled mighty good inside those big hot tin buildings.
Some of us kids went there one day with a mission to see if we could get into the restrooms labeled "White Only". There was one right next to it labeled "Colored". We would get very close when the old sleeping guy with a tobbaco stick would hit the tin wall with the stick and we'd run like hell. He was having fun just like we were. We did get into the "White Only" restroom eventually only to realize there was no difference. It smelled the same. Piss on the floor, Poop in the unflushed toilet. No soap. No hot water and no towels. I don't know what I was expecting. Something palatial I guess.
My brother and I went to  a party that we were invited to in Welmar near the Bordeaux community. The moment we stepped foot into the house, the parents told everyone there that they had to leave. You would have thought we had pee'd in the punch bowl or somthing. Other teenagers weren't happy that our presence crashed the party. That can make it difficult for a young teenager to make friends. It could destroy self esteem and kindle hatred. 
There was the time I went to a friend's house with him to retrive something from his room. Instead of following him through the house, I waited just inside the front door. His father was watching television. I spoke to him "How are you doing sir". He grumbled something that I couldn't understand so I asked "I beg your pardon" to which he clearly replied "There's the door nigger, now hit it" as he came towards me with his pocket knife. He didn't have to tell me twice (well, actually he did). I hit the door running like George Custer should have.
I went to the Peddler Steak House on the night of my High School gradutation with a pretty young lady that I was fond of. We were harrassed by people that were perhaps old enough to be our parents because they could tell that she was white and I wasn't. The lady at the front desk was in an awkward position as she attempted to get them to be nice. She also had to be careful not to offend them because the color of thier skin gave them a status that I couldn't possibly have. And as far as that young white girl with me, a tan skinned Indian, she must be some kind of whore or something.
Those were stinging occurances that I will not forget but because of the Civil Rights Bill and more importantly because of the ethics instilled by my parents I have enjoyed a life where my opportunities were as abnundant and anyone else's with the same education and character. You see, once people were required by law to treat all people equally they eventually learned that they were much happier themselves. They learned that that I was no different than they were. I have character flaws but so did they and in many ways my good character exceeded theirs.
I learned that much would be better if I didn't harbor ill feelings about what happened in the past. I knew that what I acchieved in life was up to me. And the girl from graduation night; her parents didn't feel good about that relationship either. They sent her to Florida to live with family. In time we married anyway with the family's blessings. Her family has become my family because we all judge each other for "who" we are characteristically not ethinically or financially. I love them back for the same reasons.
Yes, Martin Luther King, Jr's work changed things for me and it changed things for others that may have seen me differently decades ago.
Because of his work we all benefited. Credit can not be awarded nor denied based on zip codes. Womens rights won a huge victory with passage of civil rights. Equal opportunity and equal pay still have a ways to go but have improved light years. We are a very different America and world today.  
It will take a few generatins to repair the damage done by over two centuries of civil injustice but we have changed so much for the better in just a few decades. We've experienced set backs and will likely experience more but we have to reach down within ourselves to resist bigotry and injustice as we embrace equality and civility.

Emma Lazarus saluted the United States' diversity, equality and our compassionate embrace of those who have been persecuted when she wrote "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free". She would have celebrated Martin Luther King's mission.
Martin Luther King, Jr certainly inspired much change in the United States of America which consequently inspired much of the world but this year as we celebrate him, let's celebrate ourselves for the trials we've overcome and the metaphorical chains that we've broken.

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