Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Each year, we honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Growing up, my mother and father shared personal stories of their involvement in the civil rights movement—stories that I remember to this day.
Last year, my mom shared with me one of her most enduring memories—the time she traveled to Washington D.C. to hear the “I Have Dream Speech”. This year, as we pay tribute to the work of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, I want to share this very special memory with all of you.
My mother’s story:
Dr. King had many friends in the Cleveland area including church leaders, graduates of Morehouse College and other professionals/non-professionals. He was invited to speak here often at churches, large and small, black and white where he preached his message of love and non-violence. Rallies were held throughout the Cleveland area to promote integration and end discrimination in business, education, housing, and employment. My friend and I tried to hear him where ever he spoke.
The newspapers showed pictures of violent encounters between blacks and whites while Dr. King continued to preach non-violence and love.
When the March on Washington was announced, my best friend, her husband, and I made the decision to go. Our husbands were cousins; he was a brand new dentist and my husband was a new lawyer. At the time, we had six children between us.
Some friends/relatives were fearful for us, some gave encouragement and a few thought we were “nuts”, but we felt that this was something we had to do for ourselves and more importantly, a legacy for our children. Hopefully, they would have more opportunities and less racial humiliation than we, the parents had experienced.
We left our young families with in-laws and boarded the bus at Karamu House. Friends were there to see us off and wish us well.
After midnight, the driver made a rest stop at a Plaza in a mountainous area along the PA turnpike. Most went inside, I did not. I heard voices coming from a distance. The voices echoed throughout the still night. I assumed that it was a bus of African Americans singing in beautiful harmony, “We shall Overcome”. When the bus unloaded, I was surprised when I saw that the bus was actually full of non-African-Americans. They too were going to the March on Washington. It reinforced what I already knew–that there is good and bad in all groups and we can live together in love, respect and peace as held forth by Dr. King.
On arriving in D.C., buses pulled up from all over the country. After a boxed meal, we joined the march and somehow made our way to the reflection pool where we dangled out tired feet in the water and listened to the “I have a Dream” speech by Dr. King and others. I distinctly remember hearing Mahalia Jackson.
Aside from the birth of my three daughters, going to the march was the most meaningful event in my life. It gave me new hope for my children and grandchildren, it also gave me forgiveness for those who practiced hate, discrimination and the name calling of a little black girl who grew up in an all white neighborhood.
May you take this day to remember the life and legacy of Dr. King and share the spirit of peace, acceptance, and equality that represented his life and work.