Monday, January 16, 2006

Growing Up Southern: Was it Really a Dream?

Growing up in the South, bigotry is not unfamiliar to me. I saw it much of my life and, sad to say, I am convinced it is still with us today. Moreover, I am grieved to think that our society - and especially the church of Jesus Christ - could somehow go about their business (certainly not the whole of His purposes) whilst giving a "don't rock the boat" nod and tacit approval to the sin of racism woven deeply into the fabric of our society.

I do not remember "Colored Only" and "White Only" water fountains. Born in 1961, I missed seeing them at an age that could register in my memory; however, I do remember segregated waiting rooms at the doctor’s office and “Colored Only” lines at the theater that entered the side entrance and led to the balcony. (Ugh, can you believe it? )

At the time, I was naïve and clueless as to what I saw. It was a cluelessness due, at least in part, to the absence bigotry in my upbringing and home. Also, since primary school (Grade 1), I had always had black friends and it wasn't until later - High School to be exact- that I began to see that this was the exception and not the rule for some in rural South Carolina.

I remember the telephone call to my parents when some people in my hometown saw me riding around town after track practice with one of my close friends - who happened to be black. I also remember hearing of a different call that Joe, my friend, received from his grandmother when she saw me give him a ride home the same day. How absurd - two friends enjoying their friendship yet rippling the waters in a pond that we had nothing to do with creating. This was not OK; nonetheless, it was clearly real.

I'm happy to say that I saw Joe again recently. He brought a smile to face and there was sincere joy for us both as we remembered the days and our many friends (both black and white) at Wade Hampton High. In fact, it was a class reunion and I delighted to see Louis, Lester, Sonny, Yvonne, Deborah and others whom I count as friends and can name amongst those, with whom I share good memories, which never made color as a hindrance to friendship.

Thank God that we were too naive to listen to "older and wiser" around us. Today, I feel God's smile as I remember those days and -although I must repent of many sins in my youth - racism and hatred is not among them.

What follows is an excerpt from the I Have a Dream speech of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. from 28 August 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C. For the complete text and links to the complete audio and video, you can visit Doug's Digs. It is clearly worth the read.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."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 down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

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.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream ….With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning: My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride, From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that: Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

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