Saturday, 15 January 2011

Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 15th is the birth date of civil rights activist, Martin Luther King, Jr.  It is a US federal holiday that will be observed this year on Monday, the 17th.   It is apparently a rather controversial holiday; I'd no idea what a circus there was around it, and reading about this in Wikipedia I don't know whether to laugh or cry.  A bit of both, probably.  Can't say I'm that fussed about whether or not that particular birthday is a holiday at this point, though when it was enacted I was well pleased to have another day off.  What grates at the moment is what jackasses (my Grandmother's word) we make of ourselves arguing over it.

King was assassinated when I was 11 years old.  I don't well remember his or Bobby Kennedy's demise, but I remember where I was when JFK died (in my third grade class sitting on the floor watching the Spanish lesson on TV; the teacher came in and changed the channel to the news and then we were all sent home for the day).  I mainly remember that the world seemed to me a violent, ugly place, full of hate.   I think I began my reluctance to keep up with current affairs about then.  'No news is good news' has sort of been my code ever since.

I grew up knowing that racism existed.  Mom always taught me to say 'NEgro' (the polite word in that day); the other word with two g's in it was on the list attached to the bar of soap in the bathroom.  She taught me to always be considerate of any black person I met because they didn't have a fair shake in life.  I dunno, does that mean Mom was a bit of an activist herself?  Wouldn't much surprise me, actually, except that by my Dad's account, her adored father was one of the biggest, ugliest racists around.  Go figure.  

I remember when my high school was finally integrated in the early 70s.  A Judge Luther Bohanon of the Oklahoma Supreme Court decided busing was needed to desegregate high schools.  Property taxes funded schools and this  meant that the poorer areas didn't have as good schools as the richer.  So, each Oklahoma City high school was assigned a sort of lead area:  science, maths, language, and the like.  I think my alma mater, John Marshall, got math.  I got on a bus twice a week and got shipped to North East High School for a chemistry class, some one's idea of a fat joke.  I'm reasonably certain I passed chemistry because I wore hot pants and boots to class.  My aim wasn't to pass chemistry, but to engender protective feelings in one of my fellow bus passengers, Wayne, who being the size of a refrigerator may well have gone on to play college football.

It's a strange feeling being a minority for the first time.  It made me avoid liquids so I wouldn't need to use the bathroom and thus be out of Wayne's vicinity.  It also made me go out of my way to be friendly to the two black girls in my geometry class, because I knew it was probably scary at my school for them.  I remember how reserved they were, but it got better in time, almost really good but never quite relaxed.  Some of the richest and most interesting friendships I've had since have been with persons of other cultures, colours and nationalities. 

That scary feeling that came with integration wasn't entirely a mistake, though.  At least two kids died from knife wounds at school that year, something completely unheard of before, in my part of town anyhow.   Though my parents applauded the desegregation decision in principle, the potential danger was worrying.  That was why the school counselors gave parents the option of having their children take full course-loads (no study halls, no drivers education for me) and two summer school sessions (Algebra and English) to get all the required credits to graduate at the end of their junior year.  Having been put up a year from first to second grade and having done this hurry-up route, I graduated high school two weeks before my 16th birthday.  For all the good it did me.  But - as they say - enough about me.

I looked up King's 'I Have a Dream' speech.  I probably wouldn't have enjoyed hearing it delivered -- the Baptist preaching style doesn't do anything positive for me -- but I liked reading his words and I'm sorry I've never looked it up before.  See what a wonderful exercise this blog is for me?   I'm thinking I may need to find a biography...of his wife. 

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