NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

February 26, 2013

When is Black History Month?

This one — or what white folks call “February.”

Few persons use this time to find out things they don’t know. What was Jim Crow? Who was Frederick Douglass? How on earth did this country, “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” come so soon to tolerate slavery? Does anybody read a book anymore?

Some people still think blacks should stop whining and seeing racism everywhere; after all, wasn’t there an Emancipation Proclamation and a war to defend it? And just to re-make the point, didn’t we have a Civil Rights movement a hundred years later? What escapes them is why, indeed, we had to re-make the point a century after.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day The Daily News published a column regarding my experiences with three young black men, all members of the NAACP, on our way to Atlanta for the King funeral in 1968, with harrowing excursions into Baltimore and a dead-of-night Virginia countryside.

I reference that piece now, but will add that on our return to Pennsylvania, people found our reports hard to believe. They tended to believe first, and only, the media, and even then harbored suspicions.

Of course Southerners like me knew and understood because we were, and are, used to racism as a thing writ large, having seen beatings and perhaps even lynchings, right up to mid-20th century America.

Northerners seemed not acquainted with racism up close. They were still surprised, when King marched in Chicago, that all those adorable fonzies turned out to pelt him with rocks, bricks and bottles. But that’s why King went there — otherwise, Chicagoans would have denied their racism.

Such has been my experience since migrating north many years ago. People knew of early segregation in Boston and the whole ugly integration-and-busing controversy, but few knew the face of racism up front and personal.

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