Tag Archives: Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King’s Dream Legacy

Some people have questioned my political leanings. Why, they ask, are you so liberal?

Actually, I don’t think of myself as a liberal. Certainly, I can see eye-to-eye with fiscal conservatives. But I was raised to believe that all people are created equal. I’m not talking specifics here—Little Johnny may have more brains than Little Spencer. Little Clarissa may have been born to a wealthy family and have advantages over Little Joanie. No, what I am looking at is the forest here—or the species, really. What I am saying is that though our skin color may be different or our religion or our ethnicity or sexual orientation—underneath it all, we are human beings. We are the same.

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It’s been fifty years since Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech. My classmates and I were privileged to hear him speak before then. In November, 1961, at the invitation of our principal, Frank Hanawalt, Martin Luther King Jr. came to Garfield High School to speak. He also spoke at my temple, Temple De Hirsch Sinai. Many of my contemporaries heard him there. He spoke of brotherhood and kinship and equality for all. He made us realize we could do something to create change.

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From that time on, I had a dream that all children would be treated equally no matter their race, religion, or ethnicity. It was so apparent to me that people are people—some are good and some are bad. Some are smart and some are stupid. But I could also see that the economic and social divide of America was of Grand Canyon proportions. If you came from a disadvantaged background, it could make all the difference to getting ahead. I felt education was a key to getting people out of the ghetto.

I began teaching at Meany Junior High in 1967. I wanted to work within the system rather than outside of it. (I ‘d become a civil rights activist in my own way since college. Once, George Lincoln Rockwell, the Nazi bigot, came to speak at the University of Washington. Many of us were outraged. When they wouldn’t cancel the speech, we attended, sitting Caucasian, African American, Caucasian, African American throughout the auditorium.)

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At Meany, located in Seattle’s inner city, I became a civil rights advocate in my classroom. Someday, I thought, if these kids were encouraged and given the chance to learn, they could go anywhere—why they could even become president!

The President of the United States.

The President of the United States.

When I quit teaching to raise my family, I brought the ideal of equality into our household. For starters, I put a poster of a white baby sitting next to a black baby, by my children’s crib. I am proud to say that my children and their children do not disappoint me. In reality, babies are color blind. You have to be taught to fear and hate. My daughter just sent me this photo. Our granddaughter, who is 18 months, had settled two of her dolls together for the night.

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I think it is inconceivable to my children and grandchildren. that African Americans had to sit in different parts of a bus or drink at different fountains. It was to me, too. I remember going to a high school convention that was held in Houston. When I mentioned that my school was integrated, other delegates couldn’t believe me.

“So, they go to your school, but they have different classrooms,” one girl said.

“No, of course not,” I said.

“Really? Well, they sit on the other side of the room, then,” another girl said.

I shook my head. “Nope, we all sit together.”

They were astounded.

I wish I’d known then that Jimi Hendrix was going to be famous because I could have bragged that he sat next to me in Sophomore English.

 

The Theory of Relativity: Time Travel

I never understood Einstein’s Theory of Relativity until I got older. Yesterday brought its relevance back in focus for me.

In the morning, I had a phone conference with a group who work for Writer’s Relief, an author’s submission service that has guided my writing into many literary magazines. It was a strategic planning meeting. I was telling them I am working on “Radio Days”, a group of stories, each featuring a radio.

“So far, the stories are mostly memoir. I’m working on one now about Bobby Kennedy being shot,” I said. “I woke up to my alarm clock radio broadcasting the news.”

There was a loud silence from the other end. I’m not sure if they were awe struck by talking to someone who was actually old enough to remember the day Bobby Kennedy was shot or they felt sympathy for me, but I felt compelled to fill the silence.

“It was a terrible time in our history. Martin Luther King had only been killed two months before. I was teaching in an inner city school in Seattle that was probably 65% African American. There’d been riots then,” I continued.

I realized that to my quiet “audience”, it was U.S. History. To me, who had lived through it, it was part of the fabric of my life. I’ve never forgotten the shock of being awakened with the words, “Bobby Kennedy has been assassinated.”

I remember going to school that day in June. I was in mourning for another of our fallen leaders. Would it ever end? Bobby Kennedy had campaigned in Seattle that March. I was downtown with my mother and we went to see him as his cavalcade drove down the street.

“What a handsome young man,” Mother said. She was usually so serious and I thought it a frivolous comment. I was going to say, “We don’t elect our leaders by their looks,” but the moment passed.

Two months later Bobby Kennedy was dead just like Martin Luther King. I expected the kids to be upset, but I was wrong. These same people who’d wanted to burn the school down when MLK was shot, didn’t really care about Bobby Kennedy. It was June—time for school to be out. Time to have fun.

Forty-four years later, I went on the Facebook Group of many of my former students. It’s weird communicating with them, seeing how they thought of me. My memories have been cemented by my perceptions. I wondered how they perceived that day in June.

Thinking about it all day, I remembered it seemed a long time period between JFK’s assassination and Bobby Kennedy’s. It was only five years. As a teenager and a twenty-two-year-old, those five years had taken me from high school to college to marriage to a teaching career. I had evolved from a child to an adult. That time period was an eon for me.

Today, five years is gone in a flash. What was I even doing five years ago? A whole season of the year seems like a month to me now. Didn’t summer just start? How can the kids be going back to school? That can’t be a yellowed leaf on the ground, can it? But it is.

So I understand the Theory of Relativity now. Time is not a constant. The seconds may tick by constantly on the Master Clock at the Greenwich Observatory in England, but it gives us only numerical data. It is life that gives Time truth.