My mom, who just moved to CA, asked me why the TV commercials are advertising for the holiday weekend.
“What holiday is it?” she asked during our weekly phone call.
“Marin Luther King Day,” I said.
“Well, he wasn’t even a president,” Mom said.
“He was the greatest orator in the Civil Rights Movement,” I blurted.
It got me to thinking, my mother is approaching ninety (in 13 months). She was a Midwestern housewife in the 60’s when MLK was making his mark, before his assassination in 1968. MLK was not part of her life. She was a white woman in a middle class neighborhood. What did she care about any of it? It didn’t apply to her situation.
After the phone call ended, I asked my sis if she remembered MLK in the 60’s. I was too young and too busy riding my bike to pay attention to the news (I was 12 and clueless).
“I remember the riots,” Sis said.
Later that same day, I met up with eight girlfriends to see the Ruth Bader Ginsburg movie. As we all went to the ladies’ room together afterward, I told them what my mother had said. The woman two stalls over said that her own mother told my friend’s son (her grandson) that her Oklahoma family had been good to the slaves by giving them food and a place to live.
My friend’s son was horrified, as was my friend.
Then two of the girlfriends said they went to segregated schools in Alabama and Texas. Yes, we are women of a certain age, but I had no idea that any of this had happened to women of my generation (our group of nine ranges in age from 60 to 70).
Martin Luther King won a Nobel Peace prize, for God’s sake. He is the most recognizable figure of the American civil rights movement, along with Rosa Parks, who wouldn’t give up her seat on the bus. MLK’s I have a Dream speech will go down in history as one of the greatest speeches ever given on U.S. soil, along with Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and JFK’s speech about “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
Oh, and FDR’s speech about “Nothing to fear but fear itself.”
Anyway, it was an eye opener for all these things to align into one eight-hour period: the Ginsburg movie, the MLK holiday conversation, the segregated school reveal, my mother’s comment, my friend’s mother’s comment about slaves.
The younger generation would be more appalled by these comments than we were. They can’t believe half of what has gone on in this country’s past. The play Hamilton might make it look way cooler than it was. I don’t know yet. I haven’t seen it (in March!).
RBG was ahead of her time, and her supportive husband certainly was. She changed our laws one case at a time. Where women were in the 70’s and where they are now is the difference between night and day, thanks in part to RBG. Your rock, Ruth!
I need to go online now and order nine RBG action figures. Too bad they don’t have a reasonably-priced one for MLK. If they did, I’d buy one for me and one for my mom.