My first exposure to racism came on an English railway platform in 1966, when I witnessed an angry old man screaming at a young woman - who may have come from India or Pakistan - “We don’t want your kind here!”
She stood there meekly, head down. No one - at least while I was on the platform - came to her assistance.
Growing up in the U.S. military, my exposure to racism was pretty limited. While adults may still have had some strains of bigotry within themselves, I can honestly say that all of the fellow military “brats” I met over the years were racism free. We were Diversity in Action; we came from all races and faiths, and we just didn’t have time for that kind of crap.
My family returned to the states in early 1967, and it was like coming back to a different world than the one we had left just three years earlier.
Now, even as a young boy, I read newspapers, both the English newspaper we had a subscription to, and occasionally Stars & Stripes, which served the military community, I knew about Vietnam, though reading a newspaper overseas isn’t the same as suddenly coming home and discovering that this was a war that was dividing the entire country, even the students at my junior high - which upset the conservative school administration very much.
I both read about riots, and saw them on TV. I watched incredulously as one young white woman excitedly said on the news, “Everybody wants to be in a riot!”
Well, not me, I thought.
The space program was hitting its stride, with Wally Schirra taking the Apollo VII crew into orbit in 1967.
I got busted for shoplifting in the summer of 1967. I was trapped in a state I hated, and a junior high school, Knob Noster - which I have written about before - which was almost unbearable for me.
I’m sure that MLK was in the news many times in 1967, but I was sort of distracted. It was, as as I say, a busy year.
1968 came around.
It was an even hotter year for the country, with more demonstrations, more riots, more escalation of the war. I tried to keep up with the news, but I was pretty busy flunking eighth grade.
And then, one day, came news that a civil rights leader had been murdered.
The first real discussion I ever heard about King was from our art teacher, who said that even though he didn’t agree with anything that King stood for, he didn’t think he should have been murdered, and that it was a terrible thing.
Over the years I have often wondered about my teacher, and his statement that he didn’t agree with anything that MLK stood for. Was he just like me, ignorant of who he was, or was there a darker side to my him that I never suspected?
In full disclosure, I should probably mention that I was staunch conservative at this young age. While believed in fairness, and everything they taught us in Boy Scouts, I also believed in law and order, the Vietnam war, and had a child’s fear of “dirty hippies.”
It wasn’t until high school in Germany, in fact, after the shootings at Kent State, that my views on life began to change.
But after KIng was murdered, and Bobby Kennedy mere months after him, I began to question what I was seeing, and comparing the various news stories I read. And, of course, I was heavily into science fiction, which as any social activist can tell you, is the most radical genre of of all literature.
In fact, many parents would be marching on school libraries with pitch forks and torches, should it ever occur to them that SF isn’t just ray guns and space monsters, but ideas which can turn all of their careful teachings right on their head.
Whenever I could, I would read articles about MLK, both pro and con - and boy, were there a lot of articles on the con side, especially in the 1960s. But a picture began to form in my mind of the man.
I already knew that he was a civil rights leader and that he opposed the Vietnam war, but I also learned that he was a harsh critic of both capitalism and materialism.
Not only did he speak out on behalf of reproductive rights, but he also supported Planned Parenthood.
I realize in recent years, many conservatives have gone off their medication and claimed that MLK was actually one of them, which makes as much sense as claiming that Abbie Hoffman would be a conservative. Still, when one can find articles on the Internet like:
“6 Martin Luther King Quotes to Inspire Business Success”
. . . You know that way too many people have been drinking the office punch.
Yet, when you encounter the MLK who said things like the following, you know that not only wasn’t he a conservative, but he would not be one today.
And the Martin Luther King Jr. I discovered in these quotes is the man I have grown to admire over the years, and mourn so deeply when I realize how young he was when he was taken from all of us.
“Even in Latin American one finds a tremendous resentment of the United States, and that resentment is always strongest among the poorer and darker peoples of the continent. The life and destiny of Latin America are in the hands of United States corporations.”
“Our loyalty to the country shouldn’t be measured by our ability to kill.”
“This hour in history needs a dedicated circle of transformed noncomformists. Our planet teeters on the brink of atomic annihilation; dangerous passions of pride, hatred and selfishness are enthroned in our lives; truth lies prostrate on the rugged hills of nameless calvaries; and men do reverence before false gods of nationalism and materialism. The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a noncomforming minority.”
“If America does not use her vast resources of wealth to end poverty and make it possible for all of God’s children to have the basic necessities of life, she too will go to hell.”
“In a sense, you could say we are engaged in the class struggle.”
Quote of the Day
The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart. - Elisabeth Foley