Reflections of a Segregated Past


In honor of the Dr. Martin Luther King holiday, I decided to rent "The Rosa Parks Story" at our local Blockbuster.

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And by the way (and this is a pretty lengthy by the way), Dr. Martin Luther King Day is NOT a holiday for Blacks only.  No offense to anyone intended, but I had a few White friends in times past believe that Dr. King Day was not a holiday for "them."  So to any non-Black persons who are reading this… Dr. King holiday is a holiday for all Americans, not just Black Americans!  It's a federal holiday, and I hope that my White brothers and sisters are just as excited and interested in the accomplishments of Dr. King and what he stood for as I am.  Let's celebrate it together!  Let's thank God we are living in a new era where segregation no longer exists.  Cuz it wasn't that long ago, 50-years or so, that Jim Crow laws were in full affect!

If your job or company does not recognize this holiday, you may have to educate them that it's a national holiday for all nationalities and races.  Print out this web page to show them.  If you click that link, it will pull up a page from the official United States White House web page containing the proclamation concerning Dr. King Day being a federal holiday:
"I, George W. Bush, President of the United States, proclaim Monday, January 17, 2005, as the Martin Luther King, Jr., Federal Holiday. I encourage all Americans to observe this day with appropriate activities and programs that honor the memory and legacy of Dr. King." 
Propaganda or not, it's a great proclamation in its entirety.  Click here to read the entire proclamation.  I also learned from a few other websites that it was a big struggle for Dr. King Day to become a holiday.  It took a very long time, and Ronald Reagan was the President who ended up signing the bill to make the third Monday of every January a day to reflect on the short and world-changing life of Dr. King, 15-years after he died.  A few states initially refused to celebrate or recognize the holiday, but now all 50-states recognize it.

If your college or university does not recognize the holiday, I encourage you to bring it to the attention of the powers-that-be.  But be prepared to be appointed as the person to lead or coordinate activities and programs to help celebrate the holiday.  I ended up coordinating an entire Dr. King chapel service at my ala mater after initiating conversations with the administration about the lack of Black History education among to students on campus & how the administration seemed to used the Black music groups on campus as a token.  But that's another story!

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I was blessed to watch the Rosa Parks movie with a special friend who was in town (shout-out to Laurie a.k.a. Miss Calleneous, originally from Montreal, Canada, still reppin' Philly, but hailing now from Maryland… how's THAT for geography).  The movie was a shocking reminder to both of us of how bad Blacks used to have it in this country, only 50-years ago!—not centuries ago like my generation tends to think sometimes.

Of course Laurie & I knew that Blacks back then had to use separate drinking fountains labeled "Colored," and they could not eat at restaurants where "Whites Only" signs were displayed.  And we knew about the segregated bathrooms.  Also the segregated buses (i.e., Whites up front and Blacks in the back), but, I didn't realize (or never thought to think) that Black kids could not try on shoes at department stores.  White kids could try on shoes, but black children had to have an outline of their shoe drawn on a piece of paper and the size was then picked based on that drawing.

There was also a scene in the movie where black students were at the public library, and they were not allowed to check out books.   They had a special library in "their" section of town where they were told to go to in order to check out books.  However, those libraries did not carry the types of books the students were interested in checking out.  So Rosa Parks was instrumental in having the children speak up about this injustice.  She taught children Bible lessons too.  Rosa Parks also had to make several attempts at registering to vote before she was successful.  These are things I did not know about Rosa Parks.

I also did not realize that she was a volunteer secretary for the NAACP (where have I been), and that she was a seamstress at a big department store where she was fired after her arrest sparked a major bus boycott by the Blacks.  Her husband was fired from his job too, because he was Rosa Parks' husband, and her husband was not supportive at first with Rosa's involvement in the Civil Rights Movement.  Her husband wanted to protect Rosa and keep her safe, and it was harder for him to do that when she was basically risking her life to make a difference.  But aren't we glad she did!  The date of that incident was December 1, 1955.  And then Dr. King was shot 13-years later on April 4, 1968… 37-years ago.

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I used to have mixed feelings about Dr. King.  I remember in college writing a tribute about him in the college newspaper, emphasizing what a godly man he was, his values and morals.  And I recall my local church in Lakeland, Florida (I grew up in Germany but went to college down in Florida), participating in a Dr. Martin Luther King parade, and I helped make signs for the parade.  One of my signs said, "The man and his dream were godly."  (A kid from our church holding that sign made it into the newspaper, so that's part of my scrapbook.)  I had so much pride when it came to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr.

But then I did more research that year in the school library about the Civil Rights Movement and specifically about Dr. King, and there were so many articles saying Dr. King had extramarital affairs.  I was floored & crushed.  Was this really true?  Many Black History buffs that I know, Black and White alike, say that there is no evidence that these reports of infidelity are true, that the reports were made up by the FBI in an attempt to ruin an esteemed Black icon.  (By the way, the FBI were illegally surveying Dr. King for years!  That's a fact they admit.  I was also surprised to learn that George Bush was a CIA agent during this time period, and later became the head of the CIA.).

Now there are just as many history buffs who say that Dr. King was a known womanizer & probably did sleep around on his wife.  What's the truth?  I don't know.  The movie, "Barbershop" jokes about King's alleged promiscuity, but the producer of the film said it was a joke only, spoken by the  character Ice Cube in jest, but that remark and other similar ones upset the families of both Parks and King said Jessie Jackson, according to this BBC article (the producer apologized for anyone he offended).

This issue of whether Dr. King was an adulterer used to be critical for me, because I believe that a man's faithfulness to his wife, or lack thereof, speaks volumes of his integrity.   I mean, it made me look differently at a man who stood in front of thousands speaking against immoral acts in our society, not to mention that he was a minister and a very visible representative of God.  That's probably why I had such a mental image of him being a saint… just knowing that he was a Pastor, and reading his moving sermons.  But ministers are humans too.  And if he did sleep around (again, the jury seems equally divided), does it take away from the achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King?  Should he give back his Nobel Peace Prize if he was alive?  We all have sinned and fallen short.  And we all have a past.  As one theologian put it, "we as Christians are not sinless, but we sin less."  King David in the Bible committed adultery with Bathsheba, murdered her husband, and God still used & favored David greatly.  The Bible even says that David was a man after God's own heart.  So whether or not the reports of Dr. King's infidelity are true or not, it's not a critical issue to me any longer.

Today I thank God for using the vessel of Dr. King among many other leaders to bring about the Civil Rights Movement which in turn contributes to why today I am apart of a generation that has a hard time comprehending segregation.  His non-violent stand was needed, and what Malcolm X contributed was needed too (maybe I'll write about Malcolm during Black History Month).  Interesting to note, I recently watched a TV movie called, Deacons for Defense.  Deacons for Defense and Justice was a black organization established to protect civil rights workers against the Ku Klux Klan.   Watching that movie just might influence anyone who does not already believe that in some cases protecting our loved ones might involve violence, especially if your children are being attacked, as happened in this movie… and for that matter, what actually happened in real life.  I mean, most husbands today wouldn't think twice about shooting an intruder in his home, especially if he in some way was attempting to harm his wife or children.  Some families I know have guns or other weapons in their homes for this very reason.  (You can rent "Deacons for Defense" at your your local Blockbuster; here's a review of the movie.  It's based on the book with a similar title, and here's a review of the book.)  Dr. King of course could not condone their activities because they carried guns.  They carried guns to protect their families who were literally being attacked by local KKK members, but all the same, they were not non-violent, and "White civil rights workers try unsuccessfully to turn the Deacons back toward Martin Luther King's technique of non-violence" (quote from the review).

But now, older and (hopefully) wiser than my college years (1990-1996), I'd still say that King's dream was godly like I did back then.  The Bible says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).  In King's famous dream speech, he says:

"When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
The immoral and inhumane acts inflicted upon Blacks is the very thing upon which Dr. King peacefully fought against, with passion.  And it's hard to imagine today the horrific tales of segregation really happened such a short time ago.  It seems so unbelievable because my generation grew up without these concerns, or as my Pastor's wife put it recently, "Everything was handed to us."  So it's important to talk to older folk and remember and learn.  It should not be a part of our history that is erased or ignored or taboo to discuss.  However, I sort of understand White people of this generation who get very defensive when these things are talked about.  It's a shock for them to learn that their ancestors behaved like that.  Because they probably don't have a racist bone in their body.  Many of them often will point out that one of their close friends is Black.  So they are often quick to say that they had nothing to do with slavery or segregation laws.  And they are right.  But it's important for both Whites and Blacks to study and be aware of Black History.  We should not only study American History (a.k.a White history) and leave out the bad parts.  You see, the purpose for "bringing it up" and talking about it is to study it so that we can all learn from our mistakes as a nation. So all Americans, Whites and Blacks, should study all of history, including Black History.  Blacks were not born with Black History knowledge in their heads already.  So that's why we all have to study up.  And I might add that we should study up on our Asian American History, Latin American History, and so forth too.  What do you know about the Native Americans who were the first settlers to what we now know as America?  What is the heritege and story of Peurto Ricans?  Study up!

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So happy Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to all, and I'll probably explore other related topics that could branch off of this subject matter at a later time, maybe next month.  Next month is Black History Month.  And remember that the most important freedom to have is freedom in Jesus Christ!  "If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36).  If you want to know more about Jesus Christ or how to know God, click here.

Laurie and I also watched The Golden Globe Awards after we watched "The Rosa Parks Story," but that's a whole other article! ;-)