Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Relativity of History

Yesterday, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, there was a free showing of the film "Selma," for high school students in Akron. In this morning's paper, several students were interviewed to get their reactions to the film. Their response was that it was good to "learn history," I had two reactions to their responses: why didn't they already know about this, and their calling it "history."
There  have been, even recently, some excellent documentaries on the civil rights movements of the sixties, to say nothing of that superb "Eyes on the Prize" series. Are they not using these things in schools these days? They don't even have to read text books to learn about one of the major issues of the 20th   century.
Then I realized that this "history" was 50 years ago, and that the parents of these kids probably weren't even born when all this was going on, and had no idea of the events, the struggles, the dangers and the bravery of young Black students and their parents in the South at the time. When I was the age of the kids who saw "Selma," fifty years ago to me would have been the late 19th century -ancient times to a 15 year old.
Fifty years ago to me, however, does not seem that long ago at all. I vividly remember seeing on television Black people rallying for voting rights being knocked off their feet by fire hoses, being attacked by police dogs, being beaten by nightsticks by the local police. I was shocked that President Kennedy stayed silent, absolutely ignoring what was happening to American citizens. I sat down and wrote a scathing letter to him, but never mailed it, feeling helpless. This is the president whose picture graced many Black homes. In those days the Southern Democrats wielded most of the power in the Senate, and they weren't about to do anything either. I can't remember how long it took Kennedy to react, but his lack of outrage at the violence in Selma was a  lasting disappointment to me.
I think in the end it was the Selma March, and the participation if so many people from all over the
country, that turned the tide, but not until there was more violence and several deaths, and the hateful
Bull Connor, the "law man," who beat and bullied anyone who crossed his path.
Yesterday, there was an article in the Akron Beacon Journal about the Selma Sympathy March, fifty years ago. My friends, Shirley and Marty Baron and I were in that march, part of the crowd of 2500' white and Black citizens who felt the need to do something. I'll never forget how quiet the march was. This was before the murder of Viola Liuzzo, the woman in the Selma March in Alabama who was shot and killed, but I found myself wondering if someone in one of the buildings we walked by might decide to take some potshots at us, and what was I, a widow with four young children, doing by participating in this event? Even in the north, there were many angry people, upset that "they" were demanding equal rights.
It's hard to believe that was fifty years ago. It's also hard to believe that the struggle goes on, and that there is no Martin Luther King, Jr. to provide the kind of leadership we all need.

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