Monday, January 21, 2008

Martin - a childhood memory

The song by Dion - "Abraham, Martin and John" is running through my head this morning.

I was in elementary school when Dr. King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. It was about the same time that "busing" came to my school. Children from other school districts came to our school - to get a better education and to better integrate the school. I remember thinking it would make more sense if all the schools were good schools and if we all lived together. Why did these kids have to get up hours earlier than me and take a bus to school? Why didn't they just move here? Why wasn't anybody fixing their school?

Busing was my first experience with racism. My father said terrible things about black people - but he said terrible things about everyone - I was under the childlike impression that it was just him - he hated everybody.

We were lined up in the cafeteria waiting for our teachers to come collect us when the buses arrived. The teacher's aides and the PTA Moms were buzzing. I thought they were as excited as I was - how cool to have new kids. "Look at them, they can't behave" - "This won't last" - "It's not their fault, look at how they live". I was getting confused and frightened, clearly something bad was happening. I must not understand. I was anxious and queasy that entire school day. I looked forward to 3PM, all I had to do was pick-up my brother and get out of there.

At 3 I was sitting on the bench waiting for my brother when the buses arrived to take the new kids home. One girl sat down next to me and we eyed each other timidly. Finally she said - "My Dad hates white people" - the words hung there in the stuffy school corridor. "My Dad hates everybody but really hates black people and Jews" I replied. We stared at each other for a few seconds and then laughed. She said she hated coming here, she had to get up too early and her new teacher was scary. I told her I was glad there were new kids but I was worried about all the bad feelings - I didn't understand why we hated each other. "Let's be different" she suggested and I agreed. We did manage to be friends all through elementary school and on into middle school even though we were constantly separated by teachers and PTA Moms. One of the Moms told my parents I was hanging with the bus kids and I was punished but it was too late...

My awareness of a larger troubled world had begun and my inner "Norma Rae" was born.

I was 13 when Dr. King was assassinated. I was devastated. In the few years between that day at school and his death Dr. King had come to represent all I wanted to believe in. He was a kind man - my father was violent. He was intelligent - my father was ignorant. He spoke in cadence - my father spoke in ugly slurs. He elevated the world - my father brought it down.

I used to fantasize that I went to live with Dr. King and his family, Mrs. King seemed as wonderful as he was. My girlfriends from the neighborhood thought it was crazy. "Black people can't adopt white kids!" My friend from the bench thought it was a great idea. "... and I'll go live with Bobby Kennedy, they have so much fun together and he's going to be President"

We shall overcome, we shall overcome,
We shall overcome someday;
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,
We shall overcome someday.

The Lord will see us through, The Lord will see us through,
The Lord will see us through someday;
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,
We shall overcome someday.

We're on to victory, We're on to victory,
We're on to victory someday;
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,
We're on to victory someday.

We'll walk hand in hand, we'll walk hand in hand,
We'll walk hand in hand someday;
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,
We'll walk hand in hand someday.

We are not afraid, we are not afraid,
We are not afraid today;
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,
We are not afraid today.

The truth shall make us free, the truth shall make us free,
The truth shall make us free someday;
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,
The truth shall make us free someday.

We shall live in peace, we shall live in peace,
We shall live in peace someday;
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,
We shall live in peace someday.

Martin would want us to continue to believe.

Someday is now.


Michael Manning said...

Dianne: A very fine post! I was talking to a friend of mine from Texas who is in her late 70's while CNN was running the "MLK Papers" feature. It is horrifying to watch the old 1960's era footage of police brutality with fire hoses turned on black people and attack dogs turned loose on them. It seems to me the re-opening of the many unsolved Civil Rights Era crimes is a positive move and that the era of hate is quietly dying away. We still have a way to go before Dr. King's vision is articulated. Many do not realize that his "I Have A Dream Speech--one of the most profound--was delivered extemporaneously; at the last moment he put aside his written text. He was an incredible man.

Jeni said...

Agreed! With both your post and the above comments. Born and raised in a tiny coal mining village -in the north -where there were no black people for at least 20 plus miles from here, my exposure was limited, to say the least. However, when I was in 2nd grade, I went to Jamestown, NY to live with my mom's older sister and her husband for a little over a year and that was the first I met a black girl, my age, in school and we hit it off - got along great! Thus, I could never comprehend how some people could hate so vociferously - even people they'd never met! And all because of the color of their skin. The funny thing about this is I didn't realize until much later that I grew up in my own segregated society here in this village with its divides by ethnicity and religion when I was a kid. Thankfully, here, that has pretty much disappeared now, if only the other hostility factors would go away too! Change has come about - just not enough.
By the way - I thoroughly enjoyed you other posts directly below here that I somehow missed over the weekend. Must have been asleep or something, huh?

cathy said...

beautiful post.

Debo Blue said...

Wow! The first part of the post when you were in school reminded me of book I read in grade school "Waiting for Alice".

But the listing of the song just about made me tear up!

Thank you for a truly beautiful post.

Dianne said...

Thank You guys :)

The least that Martin deserved from me was a personal story, he was a force for good in my life.

Few people know about all the lyrics to "We Shall Overcome". I didn't. Right after 9/11 I heard a group of young women sing the entire song in Union Square. They were there because one of them had lost her Mom in the towers. People had just gathered there to leave flowers. I will never forget those women or how proud I was of NYers that night.

Mahala said...

And Amen :)

Akelamalu said...

I followed a link and found myself here. I'm glad I did, this post is wonderful.

Minnesotablue said...

What a heartwarming post. I remember watching the southern riots on television and was so shocked that people treated other people they way they did. That whole era continues to affect me in the way I judge people. It has made me more accepting of other people and their lifestyles and I have tried to pass this on to my children. Thank you for posting this

Dianne said...

Thank you akelamalu - I'm glad you liked the post and very glad you found your way here - please come back :)

minnesotablue - you're welcome :)
Thankfully many of us who grew up in that time learned and grew from it. I can't imagine what my life would have been like had I listened to my father and not been inspired by Dr. King.

magnetbabe said...

This was a beautifully written post and such a lovely story. I'm so frightened when I read about people growing up with hatred in their families and so relieved that you turned it around.

Dianne said...

thank you magnetbabe - It is frightening when you hear children repeating the nonsense they hear at home - such pure clean slates being corrupted by ignorance.

bobbie said...

Hello again Dianne.
I knew there was a reason I liked you. Just started to go back to some of your previous posts from today.
We have more in common than I thought. Some of my earliest memories are of my father's rants about "those people". He worked very hard at trying to get me to think as he did. Back in the 30's kids didn't talk back, they just listened to what their poarents said. I listened, but I can remember thinking, "My father must be crazy." He didn't confine his hatred to blacks either. If you weren't a WASP you weren't worth knowing.
Thanks for a great blog entry.