Monday, we remember Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for his commitment to freedom and equality of every human, no matter color of skin, gender, what you do or from where you come. He sacrificed his life proclaiming freedom, not with violence but with love. I believe we have made progress, since I was a kid growing up in the ‘40’s, ‘50’s and ‘60’s. But, it has been painfully slow.
It brought it all home to me on the severity of cruelty and hate, when I watched an old documentary on Turner Classic Movies the end of last year on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. It was directed by Frank Capra on WWII and why we fight.
There was one part in the film I struggled to watch. I cried, hard, realizing my naivety of hate in the world. It was a scene of a live, crying baby being held, as its head was slid into a gas mask. There was a part of me, then, that understood there were times to make a stand in the face of hate, when all options have been exhausted.
In my youth, I witnessed some of the prejudices Dr. King spoke of and stood against, some of which still exist today, though not as open. Funny, you don’t realize the extent of it, when it surrounds you and you’re living it. It’s expected and a culture that is passed on from generation to generation. I guess you have to get away from it, like I did in moving west, to get a different perspective.
As a child, I visited my grandparents every summer along with my sister and five cousins. They lived in a small, southern town, just a couple of blocks from downtown on main street. Their house was the dividing line where whites and blacks lived. From their house into downtown is where whites predominantly lived and from their house heading out-of-town to the highway was where blacks predominantly lived, unless hired hands on the farms. Then, they lived in migrant-worker shacks not far from the fields.
On one side, we had a black neighbor, who lived with a woman who said she was his common-law wife. Their houses were separated by a huge hedge, across the driveway that grew almost above the neighbor’s porch. Over the years, my grandfather and his neighbor had heated shouting matches from the front porch or sidewalk.
They couldn’t stand the sight of each other and took turns setting off one or the other. Occasionally, the police were called and one of them was served with a subpoena and hauled into court. Above that and to be fair, putting aside their personal feelings on skin
color, defensive and aggressive personalities clashed which was a recipe for conflict.
One night, we heard a woman shouting from the street. She was mad, cussing and storming up and down the sidewalk in front of our neighbor’s house. She said she was his wife. She had come home and found him with another woman – his common-law wife.
We all woke up, seven cousins, Grandmom and Grandpop and visiting Uncle, who was a Baptist preacher. Grandpop was fuming, having been woken up from a deep sleep. Usually, we went to bed around 9 pm because he rose early to go to work on the railroad.
We all jumped out of bed, when we heard him get up and stomp downstairs, grabbing his shotgun. He was shouting, “I’m gonna’ kill ‘em this time”, with my Uncle following him, close behind, down the stairs and praying out loud, with the seven of us bringing up the rear.
My grandmother was already out on the sidewalk trying to make peace with the woman who was ranting, hoping to hail a policeman. It all got sorted out, no one was hurt and things quieted down for a while.
One day, my grandmother went out and chopped down the hedge. After she had done that, there was a peace that settled between them, though never spoken of aloud. It could just be felt. No more fights or arguments.
More years went by and my grandfather retired from the railroad and became sick and frail. It wasn’t long, when he died. I remember walking around the block to the Funeral Home with a couple of my cousins. It was an old Victorian-style house, with pillars and a large porch, nestled in the community on the block behind my grandparent’s house.
As we approached the Funeral Home and began to walk up the sidewalk, there was an elderly, black man with a straw hat coming out and down the stairs, walking toward us. He was leaving and tipped his hat. We looked in his face, as he passed by, and noticed a tear-stained cheek. It was the neighbor, who had come to pay his respects to my grandfather.
As I remember that story, it gives me hope for a better world. It serves to encourage me that the human race is not lost. I believe we are capable of living in harmony.
Will there come a day, like Dr. King dreamed of, when we put down arms and reach across the fence or hedge and extend our hands in peace? I pray we do. It won’t come from the laws of the land or the power of weapons but will come from a place within each of us ― the condition of the heart.
I HAVE A DREAM!
Pat from the ol’ kitchen table