I wrote this blog and posted it on another blog on November 5, 2008, but I wanted to share it here to celebrate Martin Luther King Day.
I was living in Eastland, Texas the first year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was in full force. At that time Texas was not the most integrated State in the land. I remember specific sections of town being designated “Colored Town.” (That is what polite people called it.) Sometimes we would drive over the railroad tracks and pass through that part of town and I remembered the houses on stilts with no skirting and lacking paint. Here and there a car up on blocks with the wheels removed.
For the most part, yards were neat and tidy with bright, colorful clothes hung on the line in the back yards. Old men sat on the front porch—some smoking corn cob pipes, others just sitting in straight back chairs with dazzling white T-shirts, wearing fedora hats. And in my young mind, I felt as if this were not a good thing—this separated place for these people. I couldn’t say it then, for I did not have the language, but it felt oppressive. It felt unfair. Like they had done something wrong and living separated was their punishment.
My best friend that year in school was a girl named Victoria. Her desk was right next to mine in Mrs. Smith’s first-grade class. We had nothing in common. I was a boy and she a girl. (girls were covered in germs back then) She was very good at school. I was an average student. She never got in trouble. I got in trouble all the time. I wore plain clothes. She wore bright colors. I was quiet in class. She was outspoken. I desperately wanted to fit in and play with the cool kids at recess. She was content to sit alone and read or jump rope by herself.
The one thing we had in common however was our sense of humor. I remember I could make her laugh. She had an easy and infectious laugh. That was one of the reasons I got in trouble because she would laugh at my silliness. And she was just as funny. We couldn’t play together at recess because boys didn’t play with girls in first grade without some major teasing by the cool kids. But in class—when Mrs. Smith had her back to us—we had a blast. Victoria was a great gal.
On parent /teacher night my mom wanted to meet this Victoria that I chattered so much about. I told her that it would be easy to meet her because she sat next to me. I was hopeful that she would be there that night at the same time we were there. My hopes came true. As my mom and I went into the classroom I took her over to show her my desk and there was Victoria with her mom too!
I turned to my mom and said, “This is Victoria.”
My mom paused.
Then she smiled and bragged to Victoria and her mom about how much I talked about Victoria when I came home from school every day. It’s “Victoria this and Victoria that. Victoria said this and Victoria said that. Joe just goes on and on about Victoria.”
I remembered Victoria smiling and looking down at her shoes in a bit of awkward shyness. My mom and her mom exchanged some pleasantries. I just smiled at Victoria and she smiled back. But her smile eclipsed mine with her white teeth contrasted against her jet-black skin.
Years later my mom reminded me of that night. She said the thing that she was so proud of about that first-grade friendship was the fact that I never mentioned Victoria’s skin color. And that told her that she and my father were doing a good job of raising color blind children in a segregated south.
(I am the one with the ears…back row third from the left. I suppose you can guess which one is Victoria.)
On November 4, 2008, our country elected its first black president. When Barak Obama wowed us with his victory speech I remembered “Colored Town.” I remembered unpainted and un-skirted houses. I remembered news reports of National Guard troops being sent into volatile places in the south. I remember George Wallace blocking a doorway somewhere. I remember my mom crying when a white man killed Marin Luther King, Jr. I remember the news reporting race riots all over the country.
And now my president is a black man!
When President-elect Obama’s wife came on the stage with their two little girls——I also remembered Victoria.
Now some 43 years later I don’t know where Victoria is…. but I bet she is laughing.
I am laughing too, for change has indeed come. I am proud of our country.
Heavenly Father, please protect our new president and his family. Give him compassion for the unborn and voiceless of this world. Give him the strength to protect the innocent. Close his ears to evil. Give him discernment to be a good steward of the trust and treasury of our great land. Give him grace and your blessings. Let no evil or harm befall him. Keep him humble and dependent upon You. May you be glorified through our new president. Amen.
P.S. I voted for McCain.