The observance of Dr. King’s death always brings mixed emotions in our home. We live two hours directly south of Memphis, in the heart of the Mississippi Delta which is where my husband grew up. He was one of the thousands of lesser known civil rights activists who answered Dr. King’s call in their local, Southern communities, and at great personal cost. My husband cannot walk through the Lorraine Motel, which is now the National Civil Rights Museum. Our attempt to visit it with our children was the first time they’d ever seen him visibly shake with anger and cry.
It wasn’t so much the events of the past that agitated him as it was the disappointments of the present, or as he put it: “I went through all of that for what?” It is hard not to be cynical. On the one hand, we now have Black people in almost every political position, but too many of them are acting corruptly and irresponsibly. Our voting rights, bought in blood, often seemed to have purchased us dull figurines rather than shining champions. Meanwhile around us, our communitiesdisintegrate, torn apart by drugs, crime, and greed. However, the battles have been too hard fought, the scares too deep, the casualties too dear, and the outcomes too crucial for us who remain to just leave things as they are.
My husband is particularly distressed by what he sees in our schools. The passionate pursuit of education has been a trademark of the African American community since we were brought here. It is painful today to see so many of our children so disinterested in education, so disrespectful of educators and other elders, and so disconnected from the lessons of Dr. King.
Along with ministering to young people through our church and non-profit organization, my husband has worked with our local school system as a team chaplain, assistant coach, substitute teacher, computer lab facilitator, and de facto counselor for many years. One reason he maintains a presence in the schools is to provide the children with some role model, as in many of our schools today there are few or no black males. A both deliberate and unforseen consequence of school desegregation across the South was the dismissal of many Black teachers, and particularly Black principals. According to my husband, integration for its own sake was never the goal. The fight was for freedom, access, equality: the right to not have doors slammed in our faces, the right to not have to get up or go around back. Integration was a means to secure opportunities for us, and especially, for our children.
Whatever one may think of Barack Obama as a candidate, it is refreshing to see the hopefulness and energy especially among our young people that his candidacy has spawned. Surely, we can find ways to regenerate among them the passion for education in the service of family and community that fueled a historic movement.
The dream lives.