Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Missed Opportunity for the Modern Civil Rights Movement

I'm saddened that at this point in history, some major players in the Civil Rights Movement are passing on. What saddens me more is that their legacy is being rewritten by the modern movement that calls itself by the same name.

I learned about the civil rights movement initially as a child. It was not discussed at school, but if it had it probably would've been wrong anyway. I learned about it from home from my mother who was mortified by segregation. Not because of the inequality necessarily but because the social cues it spawned kept her from knowing and speaking to people she thought were interesting.

I shared the story about how she cried from embarrassment when she got on a bus quickly from out of the rain to accidently sit in the seats reserved for "Colored Patrons." The black man sitting behind her just took the sign off of her seat and moved it back one.

My mother's other story was when she worked at a New Orleans country club. The wait staff (all black) got their tips at the end of the week because no one bothered to add it all up and distribute the money. She asked if she could do this in her spare time so that they could take home some cash at the end of the day. It was no big deal to her but they were grateful. Eating everyday at the country club for lunch was free for employees but she always ate alone. She finally asked if she could eat with the wait staff in the kitchen so it wasn't so lonely. My mom was not trying to bridge the gaps between racial lines, but just didn't like being told who her friends could be. She was from Seattle and didn't know any better. This is the way my mom tried to teach me about. It had nothing to do with race, but she emphasized "Don't let anyone tell you who you can be friends with or who not to like." I knew nothing of the individuals behind the movement that changed segregation forever.

To take the legacy of these great heroes of the civil rights movement and rewrite them within the context of our current politically divided time, does a huge disservice. To eulogize Coretta Scott King by taking swipes at the president was in poor taste and was a lost opportunity. It not only reduced the memory of her cause, but lost a great opportunity for all of us to understand the great sacrifice of her time.

Martin Luther King Jr. did not run down this country or claim it to be a major force of evil in the world. He proclaimed that the country simply hadn't fulfilled its promise of equality. He likened it to writing a bad check and having it come back with insufficient funds. His dream was to have the promise fulfilled and the check cashed so that everyone could stand together and proclaim that they were 'Free at last."

I'm not patting myself on the back for being completely free of prejudice...because prejudices are a part of my life. I've grown to appreciate what that movement has meant to this nation and to the many it has given opportunity...a lesson I should've learned long ago. A lesson that many should've had the opportunity to learn yesterday but probably did not.

3 comments:

Esther said...

Very inspiring. I always say, why can't people just be people? Meaning, why can't we view people as individuals instead of worrying how we treat them based on the color of their skin. I think that's part of what MLK Jr. wanted to change in our country. I find it sad that some of what he and others like him accomplished was twisted by those who took up the cause of Civil Rights without understanding it. And I agree, the original leaders of the Civil Rights movement did not try to bring this country down, they tried to build it up.

Robert the Grump said...

I have mixed feelings on this. It was certainly inappropriate to use the death of a civil rights icon as a platform to bash Bush.

On the other hand, any excuse to call Bush to task for his lying and incompetence is a good excuse.

Especially since he just released the "Budget of Mass Destruction," which will continue to excerbate the national debt while widening the gulf between rich and poor.

You almost have to admire the cojones it took to slip in money to push his Social Security privitization plan, which was universally scorned by his own Party and most of America.

In the end, I think it was also inappropriate for Bush to attend. He is no friend to the minorities of this country, except when he's pandering for their vote.

Tracy said...

I can't say which party has been a friend to them honestly. I can say that no party panders to their vote like the Democrat party.

As long as they have their vote they'll continue to promise them everything as long as they don't show up to their fancy cocktail parties. The "playing down" to the black vote that the Democrat party has done since Eleanor Roosevelt has been pathetic, but effective.

To be fair to Bush though...he's a friend to no American despite their race.