Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! We use glad words to celebrate most holidays, but I don’t often hear Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It is just a good reason to have a day off of school or work to many people.
I am a bit too young to have lived through a lot of the civil rights struggles that went on in our country. I love my country and am so grateful to live here, but I don’t understand how so many people let so many bad things happen. (Not that all is well even now.)
From the time I was born until I was in 3rd grade, I moved around a lot. Then we stayed in one city for most of my remaining childhood years—Dayton, Ohio. I didn’t know or understand at first, but learned pretty quickly, that the city was segregated. No laws, signs or police kept it segregated, but one part of the city was inhabited by white people and another part was where only African Americans (just called black people then) lived.
The city participated in busing. What is busing? Just using buses to transport your children to the closest school since they live a bit too far to walk? No. It means taking a group of children who live close to a school and assigning them to a school across town so that a group of children who live close to that school can be bused to the school near your house. Why? To try to desegregate the schools and to make sure that all students had equal resources. If all the children in the black area who lived near a school went to that school, it would be all black (and typically given less resources) and the same for the white area schools, which causes them to be segregated even though there were no rules keeping one from attending the other school if they lived in those boundaries. So it was an attempt at racial integration.
(They tore down the old school in 2008. Remember playing in that corner where we'd run up the silver slopes, Sheri?)
So in 4th grade I started being bused to a different neighborhood. We would drive through a part of town that I had never been in and I couldn’t believe how run down and sad most of it looked. Boarded up windows, graffiti, and small, old homes. I have to say that the area where we lived was not affluent. We lived in probably a lower-middle class area with homes that weren’t new or big, but there was such a contrast to these two areas of town.
I had a birthday party in 4th grade and invited some of my friends from school. One of my friends who came happened to be black. I don’t remember any of the fun games we played or even the yummy cake (thanks to my bad memory), but I do remember one comment from my black friend. “This is the first time I have ever been in a house in the white part of town. I have never even been invited to a white person’s birthday party before.” My little kid mind could not comprehend that. Why not? And why was that so exciting?
We did learn about Martin Luther King, Jr. and civil rights, but that all seemed like history to learn and it even seemed like so long ago to me. But living in Dayton, I had many African American teachers who would teach about him and about civil rights with passion and gratitude. They lived through all of the things we were just learning about. Those things were still affecting the country in ways I didn’t understand. I am very grateful for those teachers who taught me that the holiday is a HAPPY day, remembering good people who stood up for what was right when it was so difficult and dangerous to do. Those people made our country a better place.
If you’d like to teach your children about this holiday, here are some links with activities.