His dream continues on
Sunday January 17th 2010, 10:57 pm
Filed under: Family,History,Life

My parents grew up out West, courted at Wellesley and Boston University after WWII, and lived in Palo Alto, CA, the first year they were married.  So they simply had no personal experience to go on and weren’t expecting…

They were newly arrived in Washington, DC and some friends invited them to join them at the beach.  Now, the Atlantic Ocean is a goodly drive away from there, not someplace you just happen to drop by on a whim.

They got lost.

Mom tells the story that they pulled into where they thought they were supposed to be; they were wondering at first why every single person there was darker than they, when the next thing that happened was all those faces turning towards them: an unspoken, We’re not allowed on YOUR beach.  Do you think you’re welcome, then, on ours?

And that was their first experience with good old Southern segregation: wishing they could explain, No, no, we’re with you!

Her father’s proudest vote, looking back later on his Senate career and having crossed party lines to do so, was for the Civil Rights Voting Act of 1965.

Mom had a car full of young children and was driving in Glen Echo, Maryland the day after the King assassination, when a large protest suddenly became a riot, there was a rock incoming, and her windshield cracked.  I remember my parents in the evenings with the TV news on, being distraught, not at the windshield so much but at the loss of that good man.

Joan Baez was speaking locally today about her memories of marching with Martin Luther King, Jr.

I wanted to go.  Glenn and Johnna offered a ride with them, one less car circling for a spot, and what I wouldn’t have given to be able to hear Ms. Baez’s stories firsthand.  That was a part of my story, too, a part of every one of ours.  King belongs to all of us, and she knew him.

Truth be told, although it would never happen in the crush of the crowd, her celebrity, and everything else going on, one very small, far-too-self-important corner of me felt it would be so cool to be able to thank her in person for having granted me permission to mention her name, her singing, and her heartfelt hopes that she’d expressed at City Hall Plaza just after 9/11, the story that had launched my entire book project: I knew I had to get that message out into the world.  I couldn’t let that moment die away unwritten. It was what propelled the whole rest of that project into being.  I owe her much, on top of what we all so much owe King.

Even though my thanks could certainly only have been spoken today by my anonymous face being present in the crowd.  I mean, c’mon, get real.

Some days, however, you know that if you push a damaged body past its point on a bad day, you will pay far too steep a price.  I’m avoiding surgeons this year if I can help it.  I did not go.

Hey, I wonder if YouTube…! (A quick Google result…)

(Edited to add a link to these pictures of Joan to clarify any confusion, and I hadn’t realized the Merc had changed the photo in their article to that of a local judge.)

10 Comments so far
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You, of all the people I know, would know that there is more than one way to give back…

Thank you for being good to yourself!

Comment by Suzanne in Mtl 01.18.10 @ 6:47 am

I think you just did let Ms. Baez and the whole world know. And you?! Self-important? Pfst…

Comment by Channon 01.18.10 @ 7:20 am

First, I really enjoyed the post and the link to Joan Baez. DH and I truly enjoyed her music in the 60’s. However, we didn’t have a TV then, and were poor students, so we had never seen her in performance.

Here’s the true confessions part: neither one of us had any clue that she was black. Guess our version of the world then was color-blind.

Comment by Barbara-Kay 01.18.10 @ 7:41 am

I have lived all my life in BC Canada and I’ve done very little travelling. There are very few blacks here but we have large numbers of other ethnic groups and they are accepted quite readily into our society.

A number of years ago I made a trip to Denver, Colorado for a seminar and was shocked at the discrimination and voluntary separation of the races. I needed a watch battery so I walked from the hotel to the nearest shopping centre. On the way there I did notice that the percentage of blacks and Hispanics far outweighed the number of whites, but being naive about such things I was not concerned. I was shocked to find that the predominately non-white staff and clientèle at the store went out of their way to avoid me. The clerks served everyone before me, regardless of who arrived at the counter first, the customers left huge gaps between me and themselves in lineups and so forth. The only non-white person who was at all friendly to me was a little black toddler girl, her hair all in corn rows, who returned my friendly smile with a beautiful smile of her own.

Even the Hispanic staff in the hotel did not return my greetings or smile. Perhaps there may have been some language barrier that they did not understand my cheerful, “Good morning!”, but surely the smile was in a universal language!

The whole experience made me sad. It also showed me that there still is intolerance in this world, despite what I might see in my own “neck of the woods”.

Comment by Marlene 01.18.10 @ 9:38 am

Barbara-Kay — Joan Baez is Mexican on her father’s side and Scots-English on her mother’s side, not African-American. The picture in the paper was of LaDoris Cordell, the MC of a local event in Palo Alto. Confusing, I know! I had to find the captions.

Comment by Kathy in San Jose 01.18.10 @ 10:14 am

Barbara-Kay, Baez isn’t black.

The segregated beach we stumbled upon innocently was on the western side of the Chesapeake Bay almost under the Bay Bridge.

After the assassination we deplored the riots and destruction of downtown Washington and other cities.It was so wasteful and angry.

Before I was 14 I deplored any kind of racial or ethnic descimination. I was that age and just starting as a high-school freshman when the only African-American boy in Carson City, a 6’4″ sophomore, found and pulled the first gray hair out of my head. His name was Robert Cooper, and he played center on our basketball team. When he graduated from high school the town draft board made certain he could enlist in the navy, where there probably would be less descrimination.

When I was 17 I quit high school and enlisted in the Army Specialized Training Program. I was sent first to Pasadena, CA, which meant a bus trip on US 395, the direct route from Reno to LA, along the eastern marge of the Sierras and not much better than an asphalt cow trail. This was 1944, and the American Japanese had long since been gathered into internment camps. The bus halted occasionally for pit stops and food. In uniform, I was on the over night run going home for my high-school graduation and was hungry for a piece of pie. The bus stopped at a rather nondescript cafe, the only eating place around. I was about to go in, but I saw a sign on the screen door that said “Japs keep out.” I decided I’d put off my craving for a piece of pie until the next stop. I did not go in.

My life has been enriched by the Black, Indian, Asiatic Indian, Latino, Japanese, and Chinese friends I have had, some just briefly, others for long term,over the years. Not to mention friends from or in the U.K., France, Belgium,Switzerland, and Finland.They have enriched me in ways they will never know.

Love, Dad

Comment by Dad 01.18.10 @ 10:29 am

We’ve come a long, long way for mere mortals, but we have a ways to go yet to obtain equality for everyone everywhere. Thanks for doin’ your part. 🙂

Comment by Toni Smoky-Mountains 01.18.10 @ 1:28 pm

I am sorry you are missing an inspiring event, but thankful that you are taking good care of yourself! Hope this is just a minor set back, a bit of too-much holiday, and that your health continues to improve. You’ll need your strength for Stitches. BTW, you “self- important”??? Not in the least!

Comment by DebbieR 01.18.10 @ 1:34 pm

That kind of experience is one we should all have – nothing increases understanding more than walking the same path as someone else.

It is apparent that your family has brought much good into this world. It is wonderful and appreciated.

Comment by twinsetellen 01.18.10 @ 5:15 pm

Sometimes the best thing you can do for those you love is take care of your self.

Comment by Diana Troldahl 01.18.10 @ 7:22 pm

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