Monday, January 17, 2011

A Few Thoughts On Civil Rights

I've always been a little disappointed that this January holiday was named for just one civil rights leader. Martin Luther King was a great leader of the Civil Rights movement, but there were many leaders, and many people whose accomplishments set the stage for the civil rights movement going back many years. Besides, what other American holiday is named to honor just one person? I guess there's Columbus Day, but it is mostly just another day for sales and I'm afraid that by making Martin Luther King Day a day to focus on one person, it will eventually go the same way.

Our nation should never forget the struggle our black population faced in going from slaves with no more say in their lives than the family cow to being, well--- people---ordinary people and sometimes great or famous people, just like those of every other race and background in this great country. In case no one has noticed, our president is black.

In school I learned about Harriet Tubman, a woman whose history excited my imagination. What a heroine! She founded an escape route for runaway slaves known as the Underground Railroad and traversed it many times, leading downtrodden people to freedom at great peril to herself. She also served as a spy for the Union Army during the Civil War.

George Washington Carver must be credited as an American hero not only for his work as a scientist, but where would America be without peanut butter, his discovery/invention? Some modern civil rights leaders fail to treat Frederick Douglass with the respect he deserves, however he was largely responsible for improving educational opportunities for black children. Booker T. Washington was also a prominent educator and Luther Burbank , a widely recognized botanist. Perhaps the black figure who most impressed me personally was Matthew Henson, assistant and partner to Admiral Robert Peary, the first explorers to reach the North Pole.

Through the years black athletes and musicians have led the way in gaining recognition for their talents and kept black faces and names before the public, setting the stage for their own people to stand up and claim their rights as citizens. I know we have Black History Month which supposedly honors all black historical characters, but I still would prefer a holiday that honored all those who struggled to establish racial equality. I also think this day should extend honor to other minority groups who made great sacrifices to ensure freedom and equality for all Americans. Where are the monuments to Native American Leaders? Remember the Code Talkers? What about the Japanese American men who fought in World War II while their families sat in internment camps?

I'm grateful for the people of many races who have contributed to making my America. I'm proud of the accomplishments of people of all races and I'm grateful for the contributions they have made to my life. I'll never forget my grade school neighbors of Japanese descent who always treated me to ice cream whenever I wandered to their house, my great grandfather's Native American wife who was my beloved Grandma Snowball (I was terribly disappointed when I learned Grandpa married her after my biological great grandmother died), the Latino people I grew up thinning beets and picking fruit with, my friends and work associates, Naomi, Tu, and Binh, and I appreciate the kindness Karl Malone showed my brother's family when their son was killed, nor the wonderful generosity of Deron Williams to my son-in-law and his family through the Wounded Warriors program. My own extended family is highly diverse and is represented by many races and cultures. That's part of what makes America great, and though King is certainly a man to be lauded, I can't help wishing the day honored our racial diversity and commitment to equal civil rights for all Americans.



battraws said...

Rosa Parks has always been one of my favorites, along with Harriet Tubman. I am not sure I would have had the courage to do what either of those women did.

Jennie said...

I've always admired Rosa Parks quiet courage too.

Tarmy said...

It's interesting to me that you mention this. My husband always calls MLK Jr Day, Civil Rights Day. Always. His mother felt strongly that it was important to recognize everyone who contributed to racial freedoms in America. I just looked it up on Wikipedia and Utah even called it Human Rights Day until 2000. I have to agree that it is valuable to recognize that none of our freedoms can be attributed to just one American citizen. I'm grateful to those who have more foresight and courage than me that have made our country great.

Jen plus 6 said...

Oooo the word verification popped up and says "tryme" which is a bit scary considering what I am going to say!

I can see your point of view and I am hoping that it does NOT go the route of Colombus Day and be another day for sales. However, I can see the other side of the coin as well. This day was named for one man, and I can't remember the scripture reference, but the phrase comes to mind about one man making a difference and that one man can save a nation and the flip side of that is that one man can destory a nation...
And I see it as the reminder, the day was named for him, by himself, and if you were to research why then you would see the great things that HE did, the things that he said. Whereas I know personally there are other holidays that seem to be a bit random because I don't see the point - the forest is louder than any individual tree. (Although that too could be that I haven't done enough research about why that particular holiday is what it is...)
I can see why the day was named for him, but then the realization of all the other great men and women who also contributed to civil rights, is out there and what a beautiful thing "they" decided that these people deserved not merely one day of recognition, but a whole month...and at the very least, at least they have that, right?

Hope you are having a wonderful day!

Jennie said...

Jen and Tarmy, I appreciate your remarks concerning MLK and Civil Rights. One thing we agree on, whatever the day is called and whether we honor one person or many, we need to take time as individuals and as a country to recognize the unique heritage given us and our responsibility to ensure all Americans are treated with dignity and the same basic civil rights.