Belated Thoughts on MLK Day

Has Martin Luther King, Jr. Day become just another holiday?

I suppose it depends on one’s perspective.  I’ve occasionally been asked about the civil-rights era when I substitute teach, and during the 1960s I was always on the sidelines.  I grew up in an area that was almost exclusively white, and had no real exposure to minorities until I got to college.  I remember a big milestone was when we saw our first African-American TV commercial.  It was for Crest toothpaste, in the usual white suburbia where the boy runs off after lunch without brushing his teeth.  Except the boy and mom were black.  My mother and I both exclaimed “Hey, look at that.”

Substitute teaching yesterday as an aide on the day after MLK Day, one social-studies class was watching the movie Selma, Lord, Selma.  Since it was a Disney production, the teacher had to explain how it was a sanitized version of events.

But then that night I worked out in the gym and met a friend I hadn’t seen in awhile.  We started talking and he happened to tell me about some of the experiences his relatives had had in the U.S. Army during World War II.  He explained how a German unit was ready to surrender at the end of the war, but refused to surrender to black GI’s; they had to wait until they found a white officer (which all officers were then) to surrender to.  And another of his relation was guarding German POWs in the South during the war.  but the guards couldn’t eat with the prisoners because they were black.  In other words, sometimes the POWs were treated better than our soldiers in our own country.  And yes, he’s an African-American — he used to play football at Arizona State.

We’ve certainly come a long way, especially in the last fifty years.  But it seems we’ve still got a ways to go, so happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

(On June 20, 2015, I posted about a podcast describing how German POWs were treated in this country.  It’s at http://www.radiolab.org/story/nazi-summer-camp/)

 

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