Forty years ago a benchmark moment of the modern civil rights movement known as the March on Washington occurred. I truly regret that I was otherwise engaged and did not join that history making event. When I was very young there were people yet alive who had been slaves before Abe Lincoln proclaimed Emancipation. While still a teen I joined the Army paratroopers and was among the units sent to Oxford, Mississippi to protect the Constitutional rights and the person of James Meredith, a veteran and the first African American to enter the University of Mississippi. Soldiers identified as “colored” were kept separated from their comrades-in-arms and held in an isolated cantonment area while the rest were deployed in the enforcement action. Even today there are those who would rationalize and excuse that segregation order by our military commanders.
Once, while on pass and hitch-hiking through Indiana in uniform I was given a long ride by a self-employed Black truck driver hauling a load of corn. That evening the trucker pulled in to a roadside café and he told me to go ahead inside and eat while he went ‘around back’. I said, “You’re giving me a ride home, and we can’t go in and eat together? Let’s go somewhere else.” He told me there was no place that was different. “Then I’ll go around back with you”, I said. “Best not do that,” he said, “we’ll both be in trouble then, and I’ve got to keep driving this highway.”
It seemed strange that soldiers who lived in the same room, in the same barracks and depended on one another for their very lives, were segregated on the basis of skin color and could not safely or legally eat, travel or socialize together in the homeland we were mutually sworn to defend. And we all knew in our bones that when we got “back to the block” we were going to encounter very different manifestations of our nation’s legal, medical and educational institutions, not to mention jobs and the police.
It’s a great disappointment that while the Civil Rights movement was successful in overthrowing Jim Crow laws, we have not yet been successful in turning America away from bigotry, ignorance, racial hostility, and their terrible consequences of inequity of economic, educational and housing opportunity and the unconscionable injustices of the legal and prison systems. This is simply because we have not joined hands to address and solve the problems resulting from the horrible 400+ year history of systematic brutal destruction of human rights and family values embodied in slavery, ‘manifest destiny’ and the apartheid laws and violence that followed ‘emancipation’ and colonial conquest.
Thanks are due to organizations like the NAACP for helping America to gain human rights and freedom and opportunity for all. Great respect is due the NAACP for it’s organizational survival for nearly 100 years while keeping the faith and keeping hope alive in the face of powerful and dangerous opposition. And we are fortunate for the opportunity to share the dream and carry it into the future.
On Sunday November 2 the Ozaukee County Branch of the NAACP will host its 13th annual Freedom Fund Banquet at the Mequon Country Club. Throughout its history the Ozaukee branch has focused its efforts in the area of multicultural/anti-bias education while promoting equal opportunity for all. One of these efforts is the innovative Unifest program, a three day event in which area high school students discuss and discover ways to overcome barriers that divide people. Another is annual college scholarships which are awarded to promising graduating seniors. This year the Kho-Thi Dance Company, an internationally known ensemble dedicated to the preservation of traditional African-American and Caribbean dance and drum, will present an exciting 40 minute performance at the banquet.
You’re invited! Your support is needed and appreciated, and it will be a great evening! You may even meet someone who was at the March on Washington, someone who was a part of that courageous movement that wrote such a proud chapter in our nation’s history. Reserve a place at the table. Tickets are $75, and include a membership and subscription to the dynamic magazine, The Crisis, founded by W.E.B. DuBois. Bring your family and friends. Reserve a whole table and come on down. If you’d like to support the Freedom Fund and place a display ad in the Program Booklet, camera ready artwork must be submitted by October 15.
Interested in becoming a member? Write to Ozaukee County Branch of the NAACP, Box 301, Thiensville 53092.