Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!
I don’t remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I was 5 when he was assassinated. But I do remember growing up in inner city Nashville, and witnessing first-hand as old attitudes smacked into new laws and the old ways of segregation and racism began to crumble.
It did not happen overnight. I started school in Nashville in 1971, which was the first year of enforced bussing to integrate the schools. I was 7. We lived in a black neighborhood (because my mother taught at Fisk University and we lived in campus housing). I was the only white person on the bus. When we got to Norman Binkley Elementary School that morning, there was a crowd of picketers waiting for us, angry white parents who didn’t want “niggers” touching their children. Needless to say, there was a moment of surprise when I got off that bus. And I got to endure the pent-up and passed-down racial anger from both black and white kids for quite some time before I was finally just accepted.
Later that year, we had a bomb scare; someone called to say a bomb had been planted in the library because of the “niggers” in the school. We all trooped over to the nearby church to wait while the bomb squad checked everything out. And none of us kids understood…why would anyone want to bomb children? For what? If the bomb had gone off, all children would have been injured — not just the black ones… and the real stupidity of racism became clear.
We have come a long way since I was in elementary school. We still have a ways to go. But when I go to school groups or work with kids in libraries, I see children of all colors, children with hijabs, children with yamakas, and children with purple streaks in their hair. And I see parents who don’t make a fuss, or necessarily notice the diversity.
If only Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been able to live long enough to see his legacy. His dream lives on and is being fulfilled a little more each day.
Have you experienced racism or discrimination because of your differences? Do you see any progress where you are?