That day and the following year are burned into my memory forever.

In 1968 I was a Sophomore in high school in a multi-racial school district.  If I remember correctly, the school population was probably about 75% Caucasian, 10% Hispanic, and 15% African-American.  There were no real problems at school, we had our “groups”  jocks, greasers, nerds, cheerleaders, rich kids and poor kids.  I really don’t recall any racial problems at school…until that week.  

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.”

In the cafeteria Laura, my best friend, and I sat in the dork section.  Way on the other side of the room was the jock and cheerleader area.  Confrontations in the hallways, parking lot and cafeteria became commonplace after Dr. King’s assassination.  Laura and I being card holding members of the “dork society” were scared everyday.  One day a fight started at lunch and people were standing on the tables, chairs were flying, and kids were scattering like ants.  Laura and I ran to the library.  Looking outside the windows we saw police cars coming from everywhere.  For what?  What were those kids trying to prove? 

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

The violence became an everyday thing at the school.  Police Officers were hired to patrol the hallways and keep the peace.  Then our school schedule was cut to half a day to eliminate lunch periods, study halls, and outdoor sports where violence most likely would occur.  Stupid, stupid kids.

The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not
revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility.

Did all that rioting and unrest help?  Did anything change?  Did we become more tolerant of others?  No, we didn’t.

Following the tragedy on 9-11-01, the same things happened at my sons’ high school.  The Chicago area has a large population of Arab-Americans, and so do the schools.  Riots, unrest, and police officers in the hallways…again.   No one listened to that Great Man…no one.

Was today just a day off work for you?  Did you put out your American flag? 


4 responses

  1. Thank you so much for sharing both the memory and the observation, mo!

    Though no one can say it better than you did, I’ll risk adding a thought about doing what comes our way to do.

    Many times through my years, people have made assumptions that because my skin color is much like theirs, I will share their view when they express bigotry. We must not let such occasions pass, no matter how uncomfortable!

    In my case, I speak calmly, letting them know that my family is made of many colors and ethnicities and I am pleased to have them flow through me. Though I may not change any minds or hearts, I feel I have at least caused them to think twice about what they say – maybe someone else won’t have to hear it.

    It’s a small thing, I have not been in a situation that would have been dangerous when these things have happened so I make no claim to courage – I risked nothing but words.

    I lived in a city where riots took place – the city burned, the National Guard patrolled our street in Jeeps with weapons mounted and at the ready, ordering us all inside and strung blockades. My father loaded a rifle and propped it near to hand… I remember, too.

    But many listened to the Great Man, and still do. They’re just harder to notice because they work quietly and steadily.


  2. For me, that’s the continuing scary things: after all these years, the same sense of hate (now directed at different “visible” minorities) thrives in environments like places of learning!
    It’s amazing read of the events through the eyes of someone who experienced it directly!

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