Janice Williams Loves Austin And sometimes I write about it.

January 16, 2012

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Filed under: Childhood Memories,Politics — Janice @ 9:29 pm

I saw Gloria Steinem on TV one day and she was reminding me and all women of the things that the feminist movement has allowed: Women having property in their own name for one. It is easy to forget how far we have come.

I was thinking about that today, too, as some of my Facebook friends still seem to have the attitude that there is no need for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the calendar, that it was approved and created in an effort to be politically correct. Of course, this friend (truly it was only one) was a white male who has probably never felt discrimination. I got to thinking about the changes that have come about in my lifetime because of the works of MLK and other civil rights leaders and thousands of people willing to fight and march and speak out.

First and foremost, there is a black man serving as the President of the United States. I don’t know about you, but I thought about this as a child and never thought I would see it in my lifetime. Or, if it DID happen, it would be a Vice President that has to take over or some “fluke” like that. There was a book out when I was young called “The Man” (I would link to it, but it is so old I can’t find it online). In it, a black man becomes Secretary of State, I think. The President dies in a plane crash, but the VP is very sick and close to death and won’t let them inaugurate him because he knows he might die soon. So the black man becomes President and the book was about the outcry about it and how he ultimately wins over the citizens. I really didn’t expect to see an African-American man move up through the ranks and run for President and win so overwhelmingly like Barack Obama did. I was a supporter and it thrilled me to have witnessed it. I wondered what my grandparents would have said about it. When I think about MLK and Civil Rights, it is easy to draw a direct line from the 60s to this President. And it is a very short line.

I also think about attitudes within my family changing.

I didn’t know ANY black children or black people until I was probably 10. I was even very confused as to the ethnicity of Nat King Cole, Chuck Berry, Jackie Wilson, Johnny Mathis, and Elvis Presley. Once we moved to Colorado, I went to school with a few black children, though still a minority. I remember walking home with one girl one day and discovering that her father had died in Vietnam. That was very sobering. She was the first person I knew that had a direct connection with that war. Another friend, Regina, was a fun friend at school.  She was planning a sleepover at her house. I hadn’t been invited yet, I don’t think, but I mentioned it to my mother and was told that I would not be allowed to spend the night at the home of a black friend. It wasn’t stated in a mean way, just “that’s the way it is.”

After we moved back to Texas, it was back to an almost all white school again. But a black friend worked on the newspaper with me. Everyone loved him, he was a star football player and an all-round fun guy. I drove him home one night after one of our late night newspaper work sessions because his house was on the way to my house. I mentioned it to my mother and she warned me not to let my dad know about it because he would have a fit.

When my nephews came along, Brandt’s best friend all through elementary and high school–and still today–is an African-American kid. Many times they spent the night at each other’s homes and the attitude has changed considerably in our family. Each generation has improved on the feelings and beliefs of the one before it.

Mark toured with a band that had a black singer for a year or two. I don’t know if they ever faced any discrimination as they traveled in their band van, but that singer sure remembered the days where he only played in the black clubs. He remembered playing in my hometown in the “Heights” where the black clubs were and where the African-American airmen from the base would go.

I guess that is a big difference between me and my dad, too. He had a first cousin that married an African-American in the 50s or 60s. He never forgave her for that and could not understand why she would do that. I don’t think he ever saw her or spoke to her after she married. I’ve learned a lot more about her in recent years. The man she married shared so many of her interests and her views. They both were involved in church mission work and education. It makes sense that she would fall in love. He just happened to have been born in Africa. Later they divorced and she is currently married to another black man. Another case of him being involved in education and things she was interested in. I believe he even supervised the Los Angeles school system at one time. He was also a Tuskegee airman, which makes me very interested in the new movie Red Tails that comes out next week. My dad was an airman, too, but he could not approve of mixed marriages.

And I’ll admit I still squirm a bit when I see a mixed race couple. I worry about their acceptance. I worry about their children. I know I don’t need to worry about it if they aren’t worried about it. I will admit I am still prejudice and occasionally racist. I certainly try not to be, but sometimes I feel those attitudes crop up in things I think. I try not to let them crop up in the way I act.

I still hear cases of discrimination or near discrimination that make me wonder how long it is really going to take to be color blind. I have an African-American friend that I work with that was telling me one day about going into a south Austin restaurant. The restaurant has a large lobby where a hostess greets you and seats you or you can just go on in to the bar if you don’t need a seat to eat. He went in one day to go to the bar to meet up with people from the radio station. He was striding toward the entry to the bar and no hostess was visible and then she came out just before he got to the entry. “Whoa whoa whoa,” she said, “Where are you going?” Not “Can I help you?" but a very clear implication that he didn’t belong in this place. He said he got the distinct feeling that he was not wanted there. He did go on in to the party and stayed a bit, but said he has not been back since. I am sure that there are still many stories like that in Austin.

The Civil Rights movement did not give me any more rights than I would have had as a white girl in America. But it has given me a wider variety of friends and co-workers than I would have had. For that I am grateful. It has certainly given me a richer musical experience and for that I am extremely grateful. Those are very selfish reasons that I am happy that change came to the U.S.A., but this is my blog and I am allowed to be selfish in it.

I am glad we have an African-American family in the White House. It seems sometime that some of the other candidates are desperately holding back on hurling a racial epithet. Instead, they use code words, hoping that there are enough people that understand that code and still hold those views to go back a generation to an all white male political system.

Sorry to go all political on you today, but MLK Day makes me happy. I see it as a reminder of where we have come from and a reminder of what visionaries can achieve.

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