Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Witness to History at the MLK, Jr. Memorial


The kids had read some books, seen a movie, and the NFO and I had discussed MLK’s impact on America, but I knew there was no way I could do it justice myself.

So, the other day, in our most recent excursion in DC, which took us to the new MLK, Jr. Memorial, I saw an older African-American man sitting on the side.

I went up to him and said, “Sir, I don’t mean to assume here, but it looks as if you were alive and remember Dr. King. If you are comfortable, would you mind sharing with my kids what it was like to live during that time?”

We lucked out. Mr.Osborne Willey, 69 years old, from Danville, VA provided my kids with an eyewitness to history account of the era.

He told them how he had to walk to school, while the white kids got to ride on the bus; how they taunted him and his classmates verbally (“using words I won’t share now with your kids”) and threw things at them.

He discussed what it was like to have to sit in the back of the bus, drink from a separate water fountain, and not be able to eat at the same tables (“we wondered about it, but that was just how it was.”)

He explained how MLK had inspired him (and a nation) to look at the world differently. He talked about how far he believes we have come as a nation (“we’ve done a good job, but we’re not at the mountaintop”) and, surprisingly to me, how he felt that many African-Americans today, in his mind, have not taken advantage of the opportunities for which King fought, particularly around education.

The two older ones did a great job of listening and Mr. Willey really did a nice job.

I think perhaps because of my time in Germany studying the Holocaust and thinking about the time when there will be no survivors around anymore (sooner than we realize), I was attuned to the fact that, someday soon, there won’t be too many people around who remember segregation/Jim Crow and I wanted my kids to hear it directly.

On the way down, I had given them a crash course in Civil Rights history.

We talked about the slave trade, the Civil War, Lincoln, Emancipation Proclamation, Poll Taxes, Jim Crow, Brown vs. the Board of Education, the Little Rock 9, Rosa Parks, the Selma-Montgomery march, Bull Connor, water cannons, dogs, lunch counter sit-ins, the “I have a dream” speech (which we watched, in part, at the memorial via YouTube on the Kindle Fire), and James Earl Ray.

It was as if I was compacting an entire lifetime of learning into a 15 minute kid-friendly interactive seminar. They actually retained a huge amount and were able to put that into context with some of the quotes at the memorial.

BTW, I LOVED the actual memorial. It was a beautiful day. The water was shining. The location is fantastic and I found it to be of a really manageable and meaningful dimension. image

I highly recommend it.

And, of course, best of all was that I unlocked the “Black History” badge on Foursquare!

Ok, I am joking about that.

The reason we do these outings is to give my kids an appreciation of America, Washington DC, and history so they build curiosity and understanding. On this particular day, it was accomplished.



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