In between proofreading and book design I have watched some of the Inauguration festivities on television today. I think it is highly significant that it occurs on the same day we celebrate the birth of Martin Luther King Jr. Several weeks ago Sharon and I watched the movie about Lincoln and since then I have been reading a book about Lincoln’s ability to lead in bringing about the end of slavery in our nation. Needless to say, I have thought a great deal about race relations.
My parents grew up in west Texas and they were exposed to racism to a certain extent, although it was not the Deep South. However, I was raised in Colorado and racism was really not a part of my experience. I attended a High School in north Denver that really was a melting pot of racial and ethnic groups. I had good friends who were Japanese, black, Italian, and Hispanic.
I remember the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in the spring of 1968 as clearly as I recall the assassination of JFK. When I heard the news it was early in the evening and I was preparing to attend the wedding of my friend Steve’s brother.
Radio newsman was my first real job. I worked for a station in downtown Denver that played “Soul Music.” Songs by James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and a group called the Jackson Five, fronted by a little kid named Michael, could be heard all day. I was the news department and another guy known as “Funky Frank” was the only other “white” guy at the station. We actually won an award for our election coverage at inner-city precincts one year.
In college, because of my unique situation of being in a wheelchair, I was usually allowed to have a room by myself. I did have one roommate though; he was a basketball player who stood about a foot and a half taller than me. Height was not our only difference – our skin color was also different. After about three weeks he went home for the weekend and was killed in a bar fight. I’m sad to say, I don’t even remember his name.
At seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, I was introduced to a number of new friends who had a different background. There were many students from the Deep South and their experience with blacks was different than mine.
As he neared graduation, my good friend Fred interviewed with a church in west Georgia about becoming their pastor. It was shortly after President Carter led his hometown church in Georgia to accept blacks for church membership. It was not a popular position among many southerners.
When he returned after the interview, Fred reported that the only question he was asked was what he would do if a black person wanted to join the church. Frankly, I was stunned. This was 1976 and I assumed the racial issue had been decided already. That shows you how dumb I was. Since Fred was from Georgia he knew how to handle the question.
Obviously, the racial issue has not been resolved in this country. We have made good progress during my lifetime but there is still far to go. To be honest, one of the reasons (not the only one) that I voted for President Obama four years ago is because of his race. It was time, perhaps past time, for a person of color to lead our nation.
I think it is especially significant that the Inauguration today was on the same day we honor Martin Luther King Jr. Obviously, King was a prophet. But I wonder if he envisioned this nation with a black President within 40 years of his death. Or, did Abraham Lincoln ever think it was a possibility.
It is certainly a day to celebrate and reflect but we must continue to march toward that time when all Americans will enjoy the same opportunities.