We Shall OvercomeThis morning at 11, I'll do what I have done the last several years on this special January Monday: I'll walk up Broad Street from First Avenue in Rome, Georgia to the City Auditorium with a hundred or two kindred spirits singing "We Shall Overcome" and "Oh, Freedom" and celebrating our solidarity with Martin Luther King in the quest for peace, justice and brotherhood in America. I hope Lillian will walk with me as she has a couple of times.
As we walk along we'll pass the old J.C. Penney building (now an antique mall) where I performed small acts of civil disobedience in the sixties: I used to make a point of drinking from the "colored" water fountain when I was there. I'm afraid that was about the extent of my stepping out for equal rights in the sixties. Occasionally I'd "argue civil rights" with a relative or a classmate or in MYF. It did cost me one girlfriend once. She was appalled to find I actually admired Martin Luther King.
(Others folks, of course, actually put their bodies on the line in those days. We'll march past the old sites of the Busy Bee Cafe, and several other former lunch counters. Rome was not a hotbed of public discord during the period, but there were a few "sit-ins" at luch counters on Broad Street.)
We'll pass the DeSoto Theater (now home to Rome Little Theater) where I interviewed wise old Silas McComb, the janitor there and at our church, about race relations at the time (1966). He was working several menial jobs and putting his children through college.
I'll think of those things and Roy Knowles and the swimming pool he closed rather than let black kids swim; and the Klan rally behind the levee where they temporarily confiscated my camera when I was stupid enough to think I could go film the idiots; and that one brave little eighth grade girl who integrated West Rome Junior High when I was a senior at the high school; and Sam Burrell, the Main "Colored" High principal who patiently helped a naive college kid who wanted to try to make a little difference in his home town; and a few "nigger-lover" taunts from a couple of cretins at West Rome. I'll think about the careless way a few of my own relatives threw around the term "nigger"; and the day my friend's Dad rolled down the window in Summerville to ask directions of a middle-aged black man and addressed him as "boy".
When we sing "We Shall Overcome", I'll think of Dr. King's funeral and I may fight tears again for this brave, wise, and very young man who made such a difference for America. And I'll fight those tears again when we get to the auditorium and the thousand or so voices there join to "Lift Every Voice and Sing" (Another clip)
I'll think of how far we've come, but I'll also think of how far we have yet to go before we fulfill that famous dream.
Martin Luther King was no wimp. He fought non-violently, but hard. He fought for civil rights. And he fought against a war that was killing thousands, diverting and draining our national resources, and sullying our national reputation. What would Martin Luther King be saying in 2006?
Hear his words from earlier days here.
Here are tributes to Dr. King from my sisters: Beth. Joan.