Working Toward The Dream
So, is it still just a dream, or have we Americans finally put racism behind us? That’s the question any number of people are asking, as the 50th anniversary of the famous civil rights March on Washington approaches.
That’s a complex question, as the late Martin Luther King Jr. understood.
As his “I have a dream” speech made clear, King recognized there were two components to racism. First, of course, was institutionalized bigotry – segregated schools, separate water fountains for whites and blacks, etc. Getting rid of it was the easy part.
The good news, half a century after the March on Washington, is that institutionalized racism seems to be gone.
But King recognized changing hearts and minds was something else, a much more difficult task.
One of my favorite stories about the Ohio Valley is from, oh, around a quarter-century ago. A group of Ku Klux Klan members from Ohio staged a march in Paden City.
They were permitted to walk through the town’s business district. That was their constitutional right, and no one suggested infringing on it.
But they were jeered and heckled every step of the way. I saw no one who sympathized with them. Had the town not been crawling with law enforcement officers, I suspect the KKK bigots would have suffered bodily harm.
I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of people in the Ohio Valley.
Just a few years later, however, I was outside a Wheeling business that displayed a sign noting it would be closed for the Martin Luther King Day holiday. An older fellow walked up, looked at it and remarked, “Just another (N-Word)” before stalking away.
My mouth fell open, literally. I was so angry I couldn’t think of anything to say to the man.
So we have a long way to go. But there’s a substantial distance to travel for both some whites and some African Americans.
I stopped counting the number of times I’ve been called a racist because I disagree with many of the policies of President Barack Obama. It doesn’t seem to matter that before he became president, I roundly criticized the same ideas when espoused by white presidents or other political leaders.
There’s plenty of prejudice to go around, folks. King’s dream will never be a reality until, as he suggested, we start judging each other by what matters instead of by skin color – whatever shade it may be.
In terms of King’s dream, something wonderful happened just a few days ago, right here in Wheeling.
For several years, a Black Heritage Festival has been held here. But next year, it will be different.
As announced last week, leaders of the Black Heritage Festival are teaming with the Wheeling YWCA to stage the Ohio Valley Multicultural Festival next June 29. As Black Heritage Festival Chairman Bill Brooks put it, “I want it to be a day when all cultures can come together … we feel this will be a real melting pot of fun.”
That’s what King had in mind.
Are we there yet? No. But thank heaven, we’re making progress. Next June 29, we’ll get an idea of just how much.
Myer can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.