For years I've heard how MLK was a communist, a womanizer, and if we're going to celebrate a day honoring a man of color, we should celebrate George Washington Carver or someone like that. Well, all of that may be true. Or it may not be. Who knows. The issue of MLK Day, however, has gone far beyond the man itself.
As a friend of mine once said, "If you used to have to eat at the back door of restaurants, or sit in the balcony at a theater, or use a separate restroom and water fountain, or go to a separate school - you too might want to honor the man who started the ball rolling for getting those restrictions lifted."
When we moved to Alabama when I was seven years old, there was a laundromat across the street from our house with a sign in the front window that said "White Only." I asked my mother where people were supposed to wash their colored clothes.
I remember driving past the blacks-only school in our southern town and instinctively realizing that something was not right about that. I remember the trauma of integration during my freshman and sophomore years of high school.
Years ago, probably 23 or so, we helped my father-in-law clean out his storeroom, which was in what the family called his "old office" - the office in which he practiced medicine during the '50s and early '60s. I went around trying to figure out what the dusty rooms were originally used for. The office had two windows, not the usual one which opened into the waiting room. There were two waiting rooms. Black people were not allowed to sit with the white people. That's just the way it was in the deep south in the sixties.
Yes, there are excesses and overreactions in recent years - on both sides. But the treatment of people of color in those days was very, very wrong. That's why my juniors read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD every year. They need to know what things were like back then. And if being out of school on MLK day is a small way to right that wrong, and to send a message to the community that we "get it," then that's a good thing.