Beverly Diehl of Writing in the Flow is hosting an MLK Blogfest to discuss racism and discrimination today. It’s a holiday in the United States to remember the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who used non-violence as a way to eliminate poverty, racism and violence.
I grew up in the South long after the battles of the Civil Rights movement. These are a few thoughts that came to mind when I considered the MLK Blogfest.
In my hometown:
The KKK sometimes visited to hold a rally on the town square. I’m not sure why. The community was all-white, so I guessed they wanted to make sure it stayed that way. Now, the community is less white as it has a growing Hispanic population from Mexico and Central America. The agriculture community attracted migrant workers and many stayed.
Last fall, a KKK group held a rally on the square and many residents came out to say: We don’t want you here.
In college, my sister and I shared a dorm room. Friends visited often. One friend, a black male, irked the frat, white boyfriends of girls in the dorm. We discovered nasty and racist remarks scrawled on our door’s message board. No one in our dorm knew what to do about the messages. We were two white girls. Was it an act of racism, if the remarks were directed at white girls?
When we had our winter break to observe Martin Luther King’s birthday, I traveled with friends to visit The King Center in Atlanta, Ga. It was the only logical thing to do that year.
I studied Italian in a summer abroad program in Florence. The international school was filled with students from across Europe. One day, the civil classroom turned a bit angry as all the students criticized the United States for its history of slavery and segregation. I didn’t defend the past, but thought the present looked pretty good in comparison.
The classroom discussion was different than my personal experience in Florence. I spoke to everyone in the piazza’s. If someone said, “Ciao!” and wanted to talk — I did. A few times, I spoke to North African immigrants.
My Italian house mother was mortified when the subject of Africans came up. Later when an Italian friend was picking me up, she forbid him from coming to the door thinking he was African.
In 2005, when riots in France highlighted racial discrimination of African and Muslim immigrants, I thought about those students, who frowned on the United States as being intolerant. It still exists.
In South Africa:
While the apartheid system of racial segregation ended in 1994, you could see signs of racial discrimination in South Africa when I visited in 2006. In Johannesburg, I visited the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum. The 12-year-old boy died in 1976 when South African police fired on students during a Soweto uprising.
After the museum, I visited a section of the slums. I wrote a little about the visit here.
In a Border Town:
Years later, I moved to a Texas border town. Here, I was a minority — called an Anglo by some. The majority were either Mexicans or of Mexican descent. Some adults didn’t know English. The first time I went to the post office. I had my “Dorothy moment.” I wasn’t in Kansas. I was in a different territory of the United States.
Here, I understood how one could live in the United States and not speak English. I took a Spanish class before we moved, but lost interest in learning the language after the third or fourth time a clerk speaking Spanish switched to English as I approached her.
A day with the U.S. Border Patrol gave me a new insight into how hard it is come into the United States illegally. I shared a little about the border here.
Stories of discrimination — past and present — break my heart. On days like today, I think about the victories to remove racial discrimination and hate from our society.
The Perfect Picture Book Fridays series has highlighted several picture books that focus on the civil rights movement. These interested me:
- Ellington Was Not a Street
- Belle, The Last Mule at Gee’s Bend
- Ruth and the Green Book
- One Million Men and Me
Whether today is a day of rest, reflection or service, I hope you have a wonderful Martin Luther King Jr. Day!