I was not old enough to participate in any of the civil rights activist work of the 60s, and although my family was sympathetic my mother was extremely ill and my father worked two jobs to pay the medical bills. I was born in 1955, and so I was 13 years old in 1968 when Dr. King was shot. I remember it clearly: my family admired the man and his work, and we were absolutely devastated by his loss. I was, at the time, a northerner: I had been born in Western Pennsylvania and was raised on Long Island in New York. I went to school during times when racial tensions ebbed and flowed. Busing affected the school district where my father taught, and he was the teacher that got the minority students, from Inwood, NY, that they bussed into a wealthy Jewish school district. Dad made it a special point to bring these young children up to grade level and treat them with honor and respect. They felt so out of place; but he did the best he could to make them feel welcome and get as good an education as he could provide.
We were not like many of our neighbors who moved out to Long Island because of white flight from New York City. When we moved to Lindenhurst we were actually fleeing from the shunning we got in the mostly Orthodox Jewish community of Cedarhurst where we lived near my father’s job. It was also an area which also had a smattering of Catholics who were at least higher up in the pecking order than us and treated me miserably as a child.
So we moved halfway out onto Long Island because we wanted a place where we fit in. As far as our white dominated society was concerned, we were not prejudiced against black people but looking back on it we were totally blind to their lack of inclusion in society. That lifted, slowly as we saw things like Charles Schultz make his courageous stance that he was going to include his black Peanuts character “Roosevelt Franklin” whether a bunch of papers canceled his comic strip or not. Racial breakthroughs came in sports (Jackie Robinson), on television (Bill Cosby), and in more and more professions as time went on
And I cheered out loud when I saw first network television all-black add that had been put together by black ad agency, I remember it clearly: it was for brown sugar (Domino brand, I think) and had a lovely black couple singing and dancing in their kitchen with the tagline of the husband saying “My sugar sure can cook!” while looking admiringly at his wife, and she held up the brown sugar and said to the camera, “So can mine!” This is what we’d been missing, and I wanted more of it. At first, my family and I didn’t know what we were missing, but we wanted more. It actually pains me as a Christian to hear black friends say things like the cartoon show The Jetsons was terrifying to them because it showed a future without black people.
So on this Martin Luther King Day song I learned in Sunday school as a child kept running through my head. “Red and yellow ,black and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the children of the world.” There is also scripture verse that applies, Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Neither is there black or white. We are all one in Christ Jesus.
I think Dr. King would’ve been pleased with the Black Panther superhero movie – I certainly was, because I saw that inclusion was finally reaching the mainstream at last.
It’s funny. Somebody asked me if I lived in integrated neighborhood, and I had to think about it. South Carolina has a half black and half white population. My neighbors aren’t black or white – they’re just neighbors, and I guess in the 70s people would’ve called it integrated.
Nowadays, I just call it home.