For many, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. is a part of the history that lives in their memory. I’ve asked some sisters in this community if they remember. Most say they can remember exactly what they were doing at the time they heard the news. For me though, although I was alive during those tumultuous days, I am not old enough to remember them. I was also born in the Northeastern United States where the heat of the struggle wasn’t nearly as strong. Location and generation play an interesting role in my coming to understand both the events of the civil rights movement and their impact.
This week we hear St. John the Baptist saying to his disciples “Behold is the Lamb of God”. I know that Dr. King did what he did for the civil rights movement because he was a Christian who believed in non-violence and believed that all people have a right to basic human dignity. As I ponder on what it means for Jesus to be “Lamb of God”. I can’t help but think of Dr. King’s nonviolent approach to making the changes in the Southeastern United States. Truly, I can’t imagine what life was like there during the civil rights movement. I am only able to tell my story.
In 1982, I moved to Mississippi and lived there for four years. These years were a great time of “growing up”. I was raised in a very culturally diverse place in New York yet, I was not at all prepared for the culture shock of living in the Deep South. Twenty years of civil rights changes had made enough change for there to be “mixed” neighborhoods, non-divided eating establishments and rest rooms separated only by gender. But the mindset of the people hadn’t changed that much. It wasn’t unusual for me to be questioned as to who my friends were and why.
My hair has always been very blond and my complexion fair, a fine enough situation for a young woman in Mississippi. However, I was raised in an environment that never gave me any reason to be concerned about what “color” or ethnicity my friends were. So when I became a close friend with my neighbor whose baby was the same age as my baby, it seemed natural. I couldn’t understand why other neighbors had difficulty with my spending time with Sue. Sue tried to explain. Sue was born in Selma, Alabama. She told me about her participation in the march from Selma to Montgomery and shared what it was like for herself and her family to live there before Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference started to organize the people. She told me that although the laws have changed, people’s minds hadn’t. Interestingly enough, Sue was enduring the same thing from her friends and family over having a friendship with a “white girl”. Sue was about ten years older than me and she knew that I was really naïve. She encouraged me not to let closed minded people get the best of me. The days with Dr. King taught Sue that “nonviolent protest” was the best way to overcome the situation. Our plan of protest was to remain friends and not to bother with those who thought it wasn’t right. By that time, our only danger was ridicule. We were good neighbors and friends for four years. My family moved to California and Sue and I lost touch. I’m grateful for Sue’s friendship. Through Sue, I had a window into a world I might never have known.
Ana Cloughly, OSB