Living in the Rainbow Village
Knox County — Recent events and recent media articles have caused me to stop and reevaluate my own racial feelings, possible discrimination on my part, and how my racial education over the years has given me a different view of our world and the people we live with day to day.
I think it was Jesse Jackson in the days of the African-American struggles of the 60s who dreamed of a country, and even a world, where we could live side by side like all the colors of the rainbow. I believe he meant not just black, white, Asian; but also all the religious and ethnic backgrounds that may separate us one from the other.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reiterated the same feelings in his “I Had a Dream” speech. We celebrated the 50th anniversary of that speech this year. The dream has yet to fully come true.
In fact, what most people don’t remember is that his mother, Alberta Williams King, was herself killed while playing the organ at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in 1974, just six years after her son, Martin, Jr. was assassinated.
Her killer, Marcus Wayne Chenault Jr. was from a middle-class black family in Dayton, Ohio. He had just been welcomed to the morning service, when he stood up in the front pew, drew two pistols, and started firing.
Sound familiar? When will the killing end?
Another fact non-Atlantans don’t know is that even though Coretta Scott King, wife of Martin, Jr., continued to live in Atlanta, running the King Center and staying true to the cause, she would not give out her address to anyone. She, unlike Jackie Kennedy, did not leave the country, but chose to stay and fight for her husband’s dream. I used to see her through the window of one of the small studios at the old CNN headquarters on Techwood Drive in Atlanta when I worked there. She did a weekly show, presumably to further the cause.
I have visited the King Center, Ebenezer Baptist Church and the family home down on Auburn Avenue. The house is an historical site and is lovingly cared for by National Park Rangers. Stepping into the church was like stepping back in time as I looked to the front and saw the familiar setting so often seen on TV in the 60s.
It’s ironic that the ultimate symbol of freedom and equal rights that sits in New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty, does not always live up to the poem of hope by Emma Lazarus:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
My Ethnic Education
As far as my ethnic education goes I must say that growing up I heard not just a few slurs against the Jewish folks in our midst. It’s true; we didn’t always treat our Jewish citizens in a nice way. My Jewish religious and ethnical knowledge increased drastically, however, when I took a job at the Atlanta Jewish Community Center in Atlanta. I wrote a story about that experience which I posted here in January of 2012. See the archives. The greatest thing I learned in that eight-year experience is the quote I used from Deuteronomy 5:14:
You shall treat the stranger as one born among you.
You shall love the stranger as yourself.
For you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
I was the stranger in this case and I was never treated with anything but respect while I worked at the AJCC. During my tenure there I was also fortunate enough to hear some of the stories of the Holocaust victims. It forever changed my feelings for those of the Jewish faith.
My African-American Friends
I never laid eyes on a black person, except for the occasional worker at the Samoset in the summer, until I journeyed to Washington, D.C. with the Drum Corps to march in the second inauguration of President Eisenhower. I remember seeing them from the window of the bus as we came into D.C. I actually remember someone close to me saying a remarkable thing: “I wonder if the women have periods like we do?” Can you imagine how ignorant we were as teenagers in the 50s?
As we were growing up in Maine, the only image we had of black people or “Negroes” as we called them, was what we saw on the movie screen. At that time you never saw a black person depicted as anything by a maid or a janitor or other such low-paying job. They were either lazy, ignorant, or the good-natured shuffling slave character or all of the above. Over the years that followed and my move to the big cities of Hartford and later Atlanta, my views of African-Americans has changed.
I have met many very intelligent and professional black people. Some were my boss at one time or another. I think fondly of the black people I worked with. I miss seeing them on a daily basis, Bernetta, Shavonda, Sharyea, Neferre, Bilal, and many others. I see some of them on Facebook though.
As I understand it from a recent story in the Courier, there are now more black families living in Knox County than there used to be. Hopefully as they interact with the rest of the folks up there, a lot of these misconceptions will disappear.
My Racial Makeup in Six Words
In a recent edition of the AARP Magazine, one writer did some research about racial feelings in America. She asked people to describe their racial experience in six words. I thought about that and came up with the six words that were probably the most embarrassing of my life, “My, you have a good tan.”
Those words were spoken by my great-aunt in the mid 60s who lived all her life over on Dutch Neck. Before I brought my good friend, Beryl, who was a light-skinned black, home to visit, she probably had never seen a black person in her life and she was up in age by that time. I stumbled over an apology to Beryl later on and she assured me I need not worry about it, but boy was it embarrassing at the time.
It made me think about what Beryl must sometimes have to put up with though. She was from New Orleans. Her parents were both doctors. Her father a medical doctor; her mother a Doctor of Social Work. Beryl had a beautiful singing voice and later followed in her mother’s footsteps and obtained a Doctorate in Social Work. She ended up working at Yale University Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut. I hooked up with her a few times when I lived in Connecticut.
During the late 60s, after we were out of school, she was involved in the racial demonstrations in New Orleans at the time and ended up in jail with many of her friends more than once. She moved back to New Orleans later on and I only heard from her through Christmas cards. A few years ago, I got a note from her cousin down there informing me that Beryl had died from complications of heart disease. I knew she had been sick, but I was devastated to hear this news. I always wanted to be in New Orleans during Mardi Gras and experience it all with Beryl at my side. Hopefully, I’ll do it in her memory some day.
My Own Discrimination
Believe it or not there is still discrimination against “Yankees” as we are called here in the South. The Civil War or as I was told not too gently one day, “The War Between the States” is still going on. After 30 plus years of living in the South I have been accepted by a lot of friends I’ve made here. It wasn’t always so.
I made a very bad faux pas when I first came here as I asked, “Where are all the mansions.” This was in Atlanta and I was told not too gently again that “Your General Sherman burned all of them!” There are still old houses in Savannah though. Sherman left them all intact as a gift to Abe.
One day I overheard a remark made by the same Southern “lady” who corrected me on the correct name for the Civil War. She said in reference to me, “That Yankee b#$##%%%.”
The Rainbow Village
These days I live in this big complex which is mostly occupied by black folks. Never have I been treated with anything but respect by any of them. The kids always say “Yes, Maam.” The only thing I don’t like is the loud boom boxes they load into the trunks of their cars. “Turn it down, brother.”
Atlanta has been known for several years as the “city too busy to hate.” While that is mostly true (we did host the Olympics and welcomed people from all over the world), there is still some resistance to the further expansion of MARTA, the commuter train system here. There are some white folks who don’t want it to come further North into their suburban communities because it will bring the black folks with it. I think that battle is being lost, however. There is still “white flight” to be found here as people try to find a less “ethnic” community to live in. As for me, I’ll stay put until such time as I move back to Maine. I’m almost a Southerner at this point anyway.
Thanks for listening.