Tuesday, January 22, 2008

King-size Reflections

{Sigh} This post is not easy for me to write, but I've wanted to tell it for 2 years now around this time of year and haven't yet, so I'm just gonna type it and blame it on the D/B/Sh/Care thing.

I may be White and pretty segregated in my daily life and surroundings, but in my own way, I've been touched by the legacy of Martin Luther King and what he stood for. I was born in 1956 in a segregated world and I can remember America as it lurched and heaved and turned toward racial justice. It was a long time ago and, although those times have been greatly romanticized, I can tell you, they were not pretty.

When Hillary Clinton said that it took LBJ to help MLK's dream come true, I knew exactly what she was saying and she was right. LBJ was the last of the old school strong-arm Congressional power brokers. He could blackmail or cajole almost more people than FBI Chief J Edgar Hoover, and that's exactly how he got Civil Rights legislation passed. Why spend that much political currency and destroy his political party as he knew it? Because there was an American Ghandi in the person of MLK to inspire him to do it. And because he had parents who'd taught him it was the right thing to do.

Some folks nowadays like to think that all whites were against desegregation, but that is so not true. My father, for example, grew up in a small college town in Central Arkansas during the Depression in a nice middle class home wanting for nothing as so many others around him had very little. His father was the Postmaster and my Dad remembers his Dad routinely put half his wages into savings every payday...that's how comfortable their life was. Yet, their good Methodist faith compelled them to help those less fortunate throughout those years.

My Dad's first year in college was lived still at home and financed by his many odd and part time jobs, one of which was delivering mail. His Dad made sure this hiring was above reproach by assigning my Dad to deliver the mail out to the Colored community on the outskirts of town. He told my Dad sternly, though, that he was to treat all his customers as well as if they were his own kin or he'd have hell to pay.

My paternal Grandfather was made of that old-time stock of men who considered public service a sacred trust and earned every penny with a smile and then some. My Dad was raised in a home where the N word was never allowed to be spoken. It was considered a cuss word, among the worst. One time my grandmother washed the mouth of my dad's little friend out with lye soap because he'd uttered it after being read the house rules.

So, my Dad carried that mail cheerfully and loyally and punctually to all the people of color in the community that year. In return, my Dad said, he never ever needed a cold drink or a chair to sit a spell in for rest, nor a clean, crisp handerchief to wipe his brow. Ice was meticulously saved for him for an offered glass of water at almost every house. He was always greeted and cared about. We're talking 30-40 people every day, offering him food and drink, just for delivering their mail to them with respect and courtesy. My Dad never forgot that. You wouldn't forget it either.

A few years later, my parents having met and moved to my Mother's hometown to teach school, it was a different and uglier world, still in Arkansas but on the eastern side. My Mother's parents were raised to be racist and were very good decent people, just raised to *know* that whites were the superior race and that the good whites among us took the responsibility to look out for and counsel the Negro. And they did use the *N* word, all the time, like any other word.

My Dad hated it. Hated hearing it. It really wore on him, especially after I was born. He began wishing for me a world without all that racism. Without hearing that *N* word all the time, at the very least.

So, even though my parents had it good where they were, as my Mom's parents were quite wealthy and provided whatever was needed or wanted, they set out to move to a place less racist and nasty, so that I could have a chance to grow up without all that influence toward continuing racism, and my parents could quit hearing that word and could quit being urged by society to be racist. It's probably up to a higher power than me to say whether my parents were successful, but I think they were.

And they weren't alone. They were many many whites who were ashamed of their fellow whites, ashamed of the double standard, ashamed of the fear and denial imposed by segregation and racism. These folks were all waiting for MLK to meetup with LBJ and do the deal. Without these folks, not even LBJ could have gotten that bill passed, or admonish the nation to act charitably and humbly about it, as he did.

That part of this history gets forgotten, especially by those who weren't even alive to remember it. But it's every bit as crucial to King's legacy as anything else. Because those whites were touched and empowered by King's words to do what was in their hearts. Including a nice teacher couple from Arkansas who just wanted a life for their daughter free from racism.

So yeah, that's what I always reflect upon on this holiday. Thanks, Mom and Dad. And LBJ. And Martin Luther King.

20 comments:

jill said...

Loved reading your story! TFS! I grew up in the South. When I visit, I am still caught off guard (and wonder if I hear correctly) by the "comments" and what people think they "just know" to be true. Very sad.

Ryzmomplus2 said...

Powerful story!

csimmers said...

What a powerful story! And one I can so relate to. I grew up in an area that was quite racist. I was the odd man out. I always have believed you judge someone from what's inside of them. That's the rule I use to this day. Thank you for sharing this story.

Barbara eastwick said...

I always think of skin color the same way I think of eye color or hair color - I'm not about to judge someone because they have red hair! I grew up in a very NON racial house, and the very idea of being racist in any way was about the worst thing to my mom, so we grewing up "knowing" that to be true. I still feel very strongly about it today.

Great post, Aimes.

Oh, to the blogger labels (or categories). Linda and I are setting up a "blog update" type thing where you post about certain things - tools, techniques, projects, etc - but then you label or categorize your posts by those labels - you can see I changed all mine. Now, if someone reads a post on my blog and wants to read more about 'wet embossing' they can click on the 'wet embossing' category and read more posts about it. It just seems if we all organize out posts by these labels, people can look through and see what we've done or are talking about easily,

Colleen said...

Wow! What an interesting read. Thanks so much for sharing. it's an amazing world we live in and so sad that there's so much war and hurt simply because of differences amongst us.

Thanks so much for stopping by my blog with well wishes too!

The Scrappy Bee... said...

Wow! Great post, and I can see how it must have been difficult for you to write. The memories it evoked for you must have made you quite emotional! Thanks for sharing!

Lida said...

That is a very good post, and I love knowing about this sort of topic, here where I live we deal with discrimination but towards the mayan descendents and it is very sad.
I loved your post, thank you for writing about this.

Maureen said...

Wow, Aimeslee: Brilliant post! Thank you so much for sharing it.

jp said...

What an amazing story. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Aaron said...

Hi Aimeslee,

This is Aaron from Evantide Photography. would you mind emailing at EvantideLC at gmail.com. I'll do my best to help you along the way with the lessons.

-Aaron

Katy said...

Aimes!!

I LOVED this post. You so eloquently expressed what it was like for people to grow up in that era. I wondered what Hilary meant when she said what she said, and it's nice to hear your perspective. It's funny, but recent history was not something we studied much growing up in North Dakota, and I had always been curious about that.

If you haven't been to the MLK center in Atlanta, I highly recommend it to you. It is an amazing and wonderful museum. It's one of those places that I learn so much more each time I visit.

Thanks for the post, my friend!

Gina (frazzledmom) said...

Wow, Aimes. That was a beautifully written piece. Your description of everyone's politeness towards your dad, and the offers of food and water brought tears to my eyes.

Heather said...

I enjoyed your post today. Thank you for sharing. I have lived in the South all my life, and it never ceases to amaze me what "good" people "know to be true" regarding people of other races. And I guess it's not just in the South...that's just where I am. Anyway, it's sad. :(

Linda said...

This is an awesome post Aimeslee. Very powerful. Dh and I try to live the same way and teach our children those same lessons. tfs

Heather said...

Wonderful post Aimes. I knew you came from good people!

Darcey said...

What a fantastic post. Thanks for sharing. What a great Dad.

KarenSue said...

wow, this is a wonderful post.

Sarah C. said...

Aimeslee, thank you for sharing this powerful story! :)

Kacy said...

Great story. Thanks for sharing. It is the perfect lesson for today (and every other day).

jill said...

Aimeslee you always have such way with words! I'm sorry for so many of the things you're going through right now. I can totally relate to feeling guilty for my feelings and 9 times out of 10 we really shouldn't feel guilty.