Monday, January 17, 2011

Thoughts About the Third Monday in January

Today we are having a teacher workday. Students are out of school. In other ways, we are tacitly acknowledging MLK Day. And I think it's about time.

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.


rk2 said...

Excellent post, Ann! The third paragraph is right on spot as well as "the treatment of people of color in those days was very, very wrong."

For several years I taught in schools that took the day off but didn't call it MLK Day. We had "semester break", "civil rights day", etc. and finally an administrator said, "We're taking MKL Jr. Day off."

At another school an administrator said, "It doesn't matter if I have disagreements with the man's moral or political life. The fact is that this day is important to my brothers and sisters in Christ, and therefore, it is important to me."

By the way, I was shocked at how many schools in west MI do NOT take today off of school.

And, as someone who has lived in the south and three states in the Midwest I can tell you that people are mistreated everywhere. Students learned very quickly that racism is everywhere when they would mention the racist South. If I haven't before I'll share with you what I did in those situation sometime.

Bet said...

Well-written post, Ann. I'm just catching up on a lot of blog reading. Sorry I got behind on yours! And glad I didn't miss this one.