Posts Tagged ‘martin luther king jr.’

40 years ago…

April 4, 2008

campfire shirt
Originally uploaded by jayfherron

I remember 40 years ago today I was standing in our back yard looking towards the city-Washington DC. Although we lived in the suburbs-a place called Aspen Hill,our house just blocks from Georgia Avenue…I could see the haze of the smoke from the fires coming off of the burning buildings. The city was in a state of riot-Martin Luther King Jr.,had been assassinated in Memphis. Washington DC was on fire.

I had not been taught directly about there being a policy of separation of men. Indirectly it was taught-my grandmother used the N word without hesitation,they actually had other names that appeared to be common from their era. But it wasn’t hard not to learn when we saw on television each nights news the way the black American was being treated by the white American. We’d see the black Americans trying to cross into Montgomery and see the way the people were treated. It wasn’t hard to miss the fact that Viet Nam was going on too-and that on the evening news it couldn’t be missed to see the black faces with the white faces in photographs of the days dead from the war.
And then-here’s our own land-our own country…the same flag,and the families and kin of the same black Americans that were fighting in the same war as white Americans-were being treated like less than a human.
No one had to sit one down and teach bigotry-although many were taught that way…but for those who weren’t-it was not hard to figure it out. It was obvious by what you saw on the news,or at the colored and white water fountains-separate,of course.

American homes of all kinds were rocked at the death of President Kennedy-mine too. As yet a boy of 12 and seeing your country’s leader shot and killed-and yet,he was more than that-everyone in America saw him as a new hope…but then, seeing him assassinated like that. And…over and over on television,it almost seems as if instant replay was invented just for that.Seeing Jackie crawling out of the car-across the trunk-her husband dead in the back seat of the convertible. Over and over. I don’t think there’s a person who was alive then who can’t mimic Lee Harvey Oswald’s face as Jack Ruby shot him.
And then-here we were 5 years later. A date always in the hearts of men as much as his speech about seeing the Promised Land. The shooting of Martin Luther King Jr.,again-on television…along with it the truth that a nation is beginning to change.

The following month-May 1968,a small group of us got in a van at a church I sometimes hung out at. We drove towards the capital. I don’t know why I have to say we must have found it easy to park-at least I don’t remember having to walk very far. Yet we joined a mass of people black and white in a march around the nations capital.
Leading the march was Ralph Abernathy-following him was the mass of people calling themselves the Poor Peoples Campaign. I was in that march.

It is not hard to see the truth in things. I’ve driven all over the United States during my years as a trucker-and I’ve seen views of prejudice in various ways. I’ve seen the way the Original Americans have been treated-and how they live. And how they are disrespected.
I live about a twenty minute drive from a road sign. It identifies the town of ‘Rosewood’….which is no longer a town.
Back in the late 1920’s a lie began which ignited hatred which led to the murder of good innocent people which led to the destruction of homes-all of the homes and church and school and a store. The entire town of Rosewood.
Rosewood was a community of black Americans.
I did not live in those days-but I know families who had family in that massacre.

I am not proud of bigotry and the hatred of men against men-but I am proud that I saw many of its changes on the way people think and act towards one another,and I am in awe that I witnessed history as much I am sad that it happened.

( the story of Rosewood has been done on film. ‘Rosewood’ features – Jon Voight ,Ving Rhames and Don Cheadle-filmed 1997 )