Monday, January 17

Hard to believe it's only been 40-some odd years...

I majored in History in college.  At UT, like other colleges, I had to take a certain variety of classes: pre-1750 Europe class, Latin-American History class, Asian history,  etc.  One of my requirements included basic American History, but I also had to take a random American History class.  I registered to take America in the 1960s.  I thought this class would rock.  In my experience, even world history/US history classes only make it through World War II before the year/semester ends.  History teachers rarely get to/want to teach about anything post 1945.  I thought this would be a great opportunity to learn more about the Cold War, Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War.  Turns out my teacher was a big, dull dud.  Lecture was unbelievably boring and I  could hardly follow the professor's ramblings.

We had very few grades in that class.  We had a final, some quiz grades, a paper and a project.  The paper and the project were two separate assignments but overlapped.  For the project we were supposed to interview someone born before 1950 about their experiences during the 1960s and write about our reactions to it in the paper.  Well, my dad was born in 1949, so rather than trying to meet someone in Knoxville to interview, I opted to go home and interview my dad. 

I wrote out some questions before we started in case the conversation didn't flow into each topic very well.  

As we got started,  I quickly realized I'd never really asked either of my parents many questions about what was going on during that time period.  I'd asked plenty of questions about their actual childhoods/families, but not in relation to the turbulent 60s.  

I asked my dad all sorts of questions about Vietnam and how he avoided the draft/whether he participated in any protests at the University of Alabama.  I asked him about what it was like to experience air raid drills in school.  I asked about Kennedy's assassination and landing on the moon.  Things I'd never really though about my parents living through.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not an idiot.  I knew they were kids/teenagers during that period, but I never really considered the fact that they were witnessing history.

Even more-so, I never really thought about the fact that my parents experienced segregation.  

In school we learned about segregation/civil rights/integration.  In elementary school it is basic.  They were separate and then they started sharing facilities.  As a 4th grader, you don't think about the violence/brutality/in-humanitarian elements.  Then in middle school, you learn more about how harsh whites were to blacks and the reality of it all comes to the fore-front in high school about lynchings and other wide-spread violence.

My parents both grew up in northern Alabama, not exactly the most tolerant place.  While interviewing my dad he recalled having separate restrooms and water-fountains. 

I know racism still exists, I'm not stupid, but living in Nashville, it's not as rampant.  I grew up in a predominantly white area, but I didn't really acknowledge different color.  Jazz, a girl in my class, had a white father and a black mother and I came home from school one day and said, "Mom! Jazz is black and white! The top of her hand is black, but the bottom is white!"  I was naive, and perfectly content to be so.  I didn't judge based on race or other categories for that matter.  

Because the times are so different now, it is unbelievable to me that my parents actually used a different door than "colored" people. 

My mom's senior year of high school the school was integrated.  Again, hard for me to fathom.

We are so lucky.  The generations who have come into the world since the 1960s, that is.  We know hatred in other forms, especially since their is a newly born hatred of Arabic people, but we don't know what it's like to be forbidden from being friends with African Americans, or from sitting with them in a restaurant.  And we have Martin Luther King, Jr. and others to thank for that.  

He was most definitely not the only person to crusade for civil rights.  He also wasn't the only person who had to die for civil rights.  Each and every person who thought it was a noble cause deserves to be honored.  Not only should we think of MLK today, and thank him for changing our world, we should also remember everyone else who had and fought for his Dream.  Who believed in a world of equality.  Who believed in freedom and peace and love.  

Another civil rights movement is brewing in our country, (gay rights) and after it, I'm sure other movements will arise as well.  I hope that we have more leaders like MLK, Medgar Evers, and Rosa Parks.  People who aren't afraid to fight for what is right, even in the face of adversity, and especially when there's no guarantee of freedom or life.  

Equality is possible, and we have Martin Luther King to thank as an example of pacifism to bring about change.   

Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the greatest men of the 20th century.  And today, I remember  and honor him.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."  --Martin Luther King, Jr.


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