Monday, January 18, 2016


One of the things I've done many times over the years is to post my thoughts about a particular holiday.

Christmas. Thanksgiving. Patriots' Day. Memorial Day. Labor Day. Fourth of July. Valentine's Day. St. Patrick's Day. New Years. Veterans' Day.

I've written about all of them, often multiple times.

And yet here we are, after all these years blogging, and I realize that I've never written about Martin Luther King.

I suspect it's because I have no personal, historic, "real" connection to the day, as I do to the holidays I've written about. Most of those connections are rooted in my childhood. My family celebrated Christmas. My father was a veteran. We exchanged Valentines in grammar school, and some of those Valentines were "holy card" Valentines that the nuns made by pasting pictures of saints onto construction paper. I grew up in a largely Irish-American enclave: Paddy's Day was a big deal.

MLK Day didn't exist when I was a kid. But MLK did.

I probably became aware of Martin Luther King, Junior at some point in the early 1960's.

I would have seen news of the "I Have A Dream Speech" on Huntley-Brinkley on NBC News, which I watched religiously. I would have read about it in Newsweek, which I read avidly.

Just as I would have learned about the murder of those three civil rights workers in Mississippi. The firehoses trained on protestors. The march on Selma. The Birmingham church bombing. Bull Conne\or. George Wallace. Watts. Newark. The Civil Rights Act.

This was news, and from the time I could read, I read the news. And from the time I could change the channel, I watched it.

But it was "news" - something that happened to other people, people living sometplace else. Nothing that involved me and my family.

I grew up in a 99.9999% white neighborhood. There were two African-American boys - Clarence (Bubba) and Tyrone (Ty) Smith - who lived nearby, if you defined nearby rather widely. They lived on the outskirts of our parish, which was how I pretty much defined the world. Bubba and Ty played in "our" Ty Cobb Little League, and were members of "our" Boy Scout/Cub Scout troops.

Although I didn't know them to speak to them - they were, after all, pubs (i.e., they went to Public School) and lived pretty far out from where I did - up off of Dead Horse Hill; and they were Protestants, to boot - I thought they were cute, as did all my friends. I especially remember that Ty was had a nice smile. (I also remember my father, having seen them somewhere - probably a ball game - describing them as "nice looking little colored boys".)

I also remember the Sunday of the annual Cub Scout/Boy Scout Mass at Our Lady of the Angels, which was likely part of what was called a "Communion Breakfast" (Mass followed by breakfast). When the Cub Scouts filed out or their pews in their uniforms to take Communion, Ty and Bubba fell in line.Some well- meaning father pulled them aside. After all, non-Catholics were not allowed to receive Communion. I can't remember the exact rules, but it was probably a mortal sin to knowingly allow a non-Catholic to unknowingly stick his tongue out and ingest the Eucharist.

Sitting in the girls section across the aisle, I was no doubt relieved that someone had saved the day by stopping the Smith boys in their tracks. (I don't recall my father's reaction, but it would have been something along the lines of why embarass these nice looking little colored boys; what the hell harm did it do anyone to let them take Holy Communion.)

I guess the point here is that I grew up in an exremely homogeneous environment, largely Catholic, predominately Irish, nearly entirely white.

I went to Caholic schools. In grammar school, there were no black kids. In high school, there was one girl who entered as a freshman the year I was a senior. She attended NDA on a scholarship named for James Chaney, the young black civil rights worker murdered in Mississippi. My college wasn't diverse, either: a handful of blacks, in a college that was Catholic, predominately Irish, nearly entirely white.

Worcester in itself was pretty white. There was a large Latio (Cuban and Puerto Rican) population when I was growing up, but fewer blacks, proportionately, than in the overall US.

In truth, until I was an adult, I barely knew any people who were Protestants or Jews, let alone from another ace. So much for diversity.

I was friendly in grad school with a couple of black folks, but my career in high tech didn't put me in a situation where I had a lot of black colleagues. One woman I was friendly with at Wang was black, and we're now LinkedIn together. That's about it.

I have friends who are Asian-American, but most of my life has been lily white.

This has not been through intention. It is, as it is for so many of us, just a matter of circumstance.

Which is not to say that I don't think about race, especially now, when what I see on the news and read about online - Trayvon Martin, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, et al. - tells me that the work that Dr. Martin Luther King did on behalf of racial justice still has an awful long way to go.

If he'd lived, Martin Luther King, Jr., would be an old man: 87 years old. But we sure could use him now...

Just because I'm just about as white bread as they come, doesn't mean that the race issues in this country don't affect me.

So, I'll end with a salute to the good doctor, and a statement of his that I believe and hope to be true:

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."

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