Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Fifty Years Ago Today

I watched our President give a speech honoring the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King today.  It is hard for me to believe that occurred fifty years ago.  I remember it well.

I grew up only 30 miles outside Washington, D.C.  I grew up in a really small town.  It had two tiny country stores, two tiny churches and though Washington was so close in miles, it seemed so far away.  I remember the black children ride a different bus to a different school.  I remember wondering why that was true.  Race was never a discussion in my home.  My Grandfather Maddox was a farmer. We lived among tobacco and corn fields and grew our own vegetables.  Black men joined my uncles and grandfather in the fields when it came time to cut the tobacco and hang it in the barns on his property.  They were paid fairly and never treated badly.  And yet, all around us, mostly South of us, race relations were in shambles and people were being treated terribly.  Oh, I do remember that the movie theater had a balcony upstairs which was reserved for the "coloreds."  Funny, us kids always thought those were the better seats! 

I remember being terribly shocked at the things I saw on television during the sixties.  I couldn't understand or believe the inhumane treatment and terrible actions of the Southerners I witnessed.  I grew up in "Southern Maryland."  It wasn't really the North or the South, but kind of trapped in between.  So I didn't see the struggles of the Deep South.

My High School was integrated without incident.  It must have been terribly difficult for the first few black teens who attended my school, but I must say I never remember anyone being rude or cruel. 

My first job was with the FBI in Washington, D.C.  There were a large proportion of blacks living in D.C. when I was there.  Unfortunately, many of them lived in ghetto areas.  I found that terribly sad and hard to understand.  I still hadn't witnessed personally the kind of racial prejudice that was occurring all around the Country, particularly in the Deep South.

I think my first real understanding of just how bad things had been was when I moved to Georgia in 1996!  Yes, I said 1996.  Thirty or Forty years after integration, prejudice and hatred was still present on both sides in Georgia.  I witnessed it when I was caring for an elderly black lady who had picked cotton as a child.  Her wound was serious and I was afraid no matter what I did, dressing it was going to be painful.  I joked and said, "okay Ms. I know this is gonna hurt, so if it does, you give me a smack!"  She looked at me really horrified and replied, "oh, no miss they would put me away for that!"  The sad thing is that she really believed that!  It shook me to the core.  That was only the first time I witnessed something like that.  I had whites tell me they didn't want no "N's" taking care of them! I explained quite simply that I had washed bottoms of all colors, taken blood and cared for wounds and there was no difference under the skin and they better get over it!

When I retired from nursing and went to manage a Senior Community, I was shocked when people who called themselves "Christians" called me and made nasty threats when I showed property to a black woman!  I was floored.  It finally hit me how deeply scarred this Country still was after decades! 

People, it is time to let go of hate and prejudice.  What happened all those years ago happened.  We can not go back and "fix" it now.  We can go forward though.  We CAN teach our children and grandchildren to love ALL people regardless of race or religion.

Today, on this Fiftieth anniversary of Dr. King's speech I am 66 years old.  I am proud to say that we have come far enough to elect a black man as President.  I think the people of the world were touched when that happened here.  I know I was.  I hoped that it meant we had moved a little farther away from the hate and prejudices of the past.  I pray that in the lifetime of my grandchildren this kind of prejudice will truly be "history."  Join me in praying for that.



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