Published on the blog of Unique Creations Company, Inc., I’ve decided to post this original copy of the post here on my own blog so as to allow subjectivity to my writing. As a business blog, U.C.C. worried about offending certain communities with my controversial account of my experiences with racism. I am posting it here for anyone who wants to read. If you are interested in the post but not my experiences, the second edit, published on U.C.C.’s own wordpress, may be read here.
Being raised in predominately white environments where the black demographic barely made up five percent of my surroundings was an experience for all parties involved. On one hand, I was often befriended and praised for not acting like every black stereotype, but subsequently exposed to stereotyped jokes made by people who didn’t consider me ‘black enough’ to think whether or not their jokes were appropriate. On the other hand, when I first moved to Nebraska with my family and we lived in Doniphan, someone contemplated hitting me with their pickup truck (to say they were amused watching me near panic on the side of the rode would be an understatement), and at one point in Grand Island I had one person yell racial slurs at me as they drove out of the high school parking lot (not that that hadn’t happened before—though the pickup truck was a new experience).
When I moved back to Saint Louis, to say I didn’t feel a culture shock would be a lie. Until 2013, I had never been exposed to any type of black environment. I went from being the one black kid in a room of forty, to an environment where I was a black kid among forty others. So once the shock settled in, I found myself excited, and even felt a sense of belonging among my peers.
However, between my way of speaking and my overall mannerisms, many concluded that I had been raised to the point where I was too different. So on one hand, I moved to an environment where I wasn’t stereotyped or an anomaly because of the different color of my skin, but on the other hand, I was a product of the environment I was raised in, and made an anomaly because of the similar color of my skin (what are the odds, right?)
The lesson I’ve learned out of this experience is that you win some, and you lose some. A person is who a person is, and sometimes you’re ostracized for it. It happens. It’s life. It might be a little frustrating sometimes, but I don’t mind it as much as I had when I was younger. Being adopted and surrounded by people who inadvertently and almost constantly highlighted our racial differences, coupled with my own opinions and thoughts had me suffering an extreme case of identity crises as a child for several years. I’m proud of the fact that I am at a stage in my life where I feel a sense of identity, regardless of my area or the thoughts of those around me. I feel as if I’ve been fortunate to be exposed to two different environments, and will even go as far as to say that I feel somewhat grateful to those who couldn’t look past my skin color or consider me a member of either environment, because the experiences have led me to see both the racial spectrum and myself in ways I might not have if things had been different; and it’s easier than it was for me years ago to balance my background and race.
If it hadn’t been for history, however, I don’t think I’d be here today writing these statements to you, nor would I have been interning for Unique Creations Company at all.
The movement for civil and equal rights hasn’t ended. It didn’t end with the civil war, it didn’t end with the era of the civil rights movement, and it won’t end tomorrow. Human beings live in a world of racial misconceptions. They look different. They talk different. I don’t know their language. Their culture is different. They aren’t like me. They are too different. I’m not comfortable. I don’t like them. This is the train of thought circulating around the whole world. People are disliked, judged, and ostracized because of their race, culture, and/or religion. Assuming there are too few similarities and too many differences, people culturally avoid reaching out and shy away from others. But, even if it’s not accomplished over night, through looking beyond those many differences, a multitude of similarities present themselves. Hobbies, humor, morals, talents. And when someone realizes just how much they have in common with someone else, those differences feel more like a different point of view of the world lived in. And the concept most thought when this happens is, We aren’t really different. We aren’t unequal.
Humans are better at accepting these thoughts now than they were forty, fifty, and sixty years ago. There are many people, many leaders in the human rights movement from all over the world that are responsible for these social changes. In lieu of the month and the day, today we pay homage to one of the most influential leaders of the African American Civil Rights Movement. Until his death, this man was a liaison and spokesperson for equality in America. This man, though always pressured and ostracized for his efforts and idealism, was never deterred from his goals. He served as an example and inspiration for others, and changed the way of thinking for many Americans.
Martin Luther King Jr. addresses a crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where he delivered his famous, “I Have a Dream,” speech during the Aug. 28, 1963, march on Washington, D.C.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was born January 15th, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. His father was a reverend and his mother was an accomplished organist and choir leader. He was raised at a time of heavy segregation in the South, but was taught to uphold the values of equality. He carried this with him through his adolescence and adulthood, graduating from Booker T. Washington High School and going to Morehouse College where he obtained his B.A. in sociology. He then went on to study at Crozer Theological Seminary School and graduated with a Bachelor of Divinity in 1951. He married Coretta Scott in 1953. In 1954 he became the pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955
On March 15th, 1955 Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man in accordance to the Jim Crow laws. When Rosa Parks was arrested on December 1st for also refusing to give up her seat, Edgar Nixon and Martin Luther King, Jr. urged, planned, and led The Montgomery Bus Boycott. The boycott lasted for 385 days. Martin was arrested at one point during the campaign and even had his home bombed. The campaign ended when United States District Court ruling (Browder v. Gayle) ended all racial segregation on Montgomery public buses.
Southern Christian Leadership Conference
Dr. King, Ralph Abernathy, and other civil rights activists founded Southern Christian Leadership Conference (also known as the SCLC). The group was created for the organizing power and moral authority of black churches to conduct nonviolent protests for civil rights reform. Martin believed in Gandhi’s nonviolent philosophies and applied them to his own campaigns. He believed that organized, nonviolent protests against southern segregation and the Jim Crow laws would lead to large amounts of media coverage for the fight for black equality and voting rights.
Journalistic accounts and televised coverage of the segregation and hardships of southern blacks produced waves of sympathy across the nation. This convinced most of America that the American Civil Rights Movement was one of the most important political issues of the 1960’s. Martin organized and led campaigns for voting, labor, and other basic civil rights as well as desegregation. Most of these rights were put into practice with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act (1965).
Birmingham Campaign, 1960-1964
The Birmingham Campaign was an effort organized by the SCLC to promote civil rights for African Americans. The goal was to end Birmingham’s segregated, discriminatory civil/economic policies. The campaign lasted for more than two months in the spring of 1963.
"You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue." --- Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail (April 16th, 1963)
Boycotts to pressure businesses to hire people of all race and end segregation in stores led to marches and sit ins with the intent to provoke arrests. Adults and children alike came together, withstanding harsh police brutality. By the end of the campaign, more people were inspired by Martin’s crusade, “Jim Crow” signs in Birmingham were removed and public places became more open to blacks.
Washington March, 1963
Martin and other prominent civil rights leaders of the time organized the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. Originally the march was meant to bring to light the poor conditions of the blacks in the Southern states. It was an opportunity for Martin and other activists to bring their grievances and desires for equality directly to the White House. They sought to highlight the federal government’s failure for protecting the physical safety and civil rights of both activists and blacks. President Kennedy feared backlash for such a strong approach, and the organizers took less of an approach.
However, they still made demands during the march, such as the desire to end segregation in schools and legislation for civil rights (to include laws prohibiting discrimination in employment and a $2 minimum wage for workers). They also demanded protection for civil rights workers against police brutality and wanted self-representation in Washington, D.C.
During the march, Martin also gave his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial. This speech is recognized alongside Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Franklin D Roosevelt’s Infamy speech as one of the finest speeches in American history.
"...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 that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, that one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.I have a dream today.I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with. 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." ---Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream speech (1963)
Through these and many other campaigns, Martin became a symbol of equality, hope, and tolerance for not only people of color, but America.
Martin was shot on April 4th, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. He was in Memphis supporting a sanitation workers’ strike. He was outside, on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Hotel. The bullet struck him in the jaw and severed his spinal cord. The murderer was then escaped convict James Earl Ray. When news of his death spread riots broke out all across the United States. He was laid to rest five days days later, in Atlanta, Georgia, Martin’s hometown. Thousands of people from across America came to his burial to pay tribute.
Martin Luther King Day
Martin Luther King Day was established in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan and is celebrated every third Monday in order to honor Martin’s birthday and the huge impact he made on America, Civil Rights, and history.
Martin persevered and fought for what he believed needed to change. In doing so he not only aided in the improvement of civil rights in America and the abolishment of segregation, but he also challenged the beliefs of many at the time and showed that, beyond racial and cultural differences, there are similarities between people and races. He challenged the hardest misconception of American civil history, and brought to many the principal, We aren’t that different. We aren’t unequal.
Use today to look at your life. Think about the tolerance, the acceptance, and the blend of cultures that exists today, and be thankful. Because of people like Martin Luther King, Jr., America is a diverse nation, with many different cultures, and the overall acceptance the nation pays to this fact is a thing that sets it apart, and makes it awe-inspiring. Although there is still a lot of racial injustice and intolerance in America today, it has come a long way from the racial persecutions and oppression of its past. It’s not perfect, but it is on its way to perfection. So for today, right now, take a moment of silence to thank Dr. King for the opportunities of cultural diversity that his efforts inspired; there is no ‘past’ when it comes to human rights; dead or alive, twenty years ago or present day, the perseverance and accomplishments of those who have fought for equality carry over generations, becoming omnipotent. So, we thank you, Dr. King. Not only you, but also the many human rights activists who’ve impacted our lives and continued to do so.