I’ll never forget the day I was in Selma, Alabama on the 39th remembrance of “Bloody Sunday.” It was March 2005. It was a sobering time for me. I was the lightest-skinned person in a crowd that mingled at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge where state and local lawmen drove back civil rights marchers with billy clubs and tear gas when they attempted to march to the capitol in Montgomery to seek voting rights for African Americans.
I had just spent four days in nearby Montgomery attending a conference. On the plane ride to Alabama, I read my friend Arnold Gibbs‘ gripping fiction, The Ties That Blind, of his own near-to-real-life journey through bigotry and racism. During open times in the conference schedule, I drove to the significant sites of the Civil Rights movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr. I was poingnantly moved by the epic bygone happenings at each location. History reveals, those risk-taking demonstrations eventually shook the conscience of our nation and President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
I grew up in rural Oregon, attending a 3-room K-8 grade school. Our family didn’t have a television. I was surrounded entirely by white people except for a few seasonal farm-laborers from Mexico. I didn’t know any African Americans until after I graduated high school. From the northwest area of the United States, I knew very little about what was going on in the opposite corner.
I met my wife during our first year in college and learned her experience was the reverse of mine. She grew up as the minority white girl in inner-city Youngstown, Ohio. Most of her classmates and friends were African-American. She remembers the schools shutting down due to racial tension. In our early years of dating, I was on the fast-track of learning our nation’s embarrassing history as I visited her community and met her friends. For the first time, I realized just how sheltered I had been from the nauseating evils that had occurred in our nation’s journey to freedom for all people.
So on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and the day of the second inauguration of our African-American President, I’m grateful for leaders who paid a huge price to pave the way for the generations behind them. While the journey has been long and grueling and we still have a distance to travel, we have made progress. And, this is a memorable day.
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