There will be a day when there is no one left who can make that statement. Memories will be lost forever. This is a little part of my journey during the turbulent 1960s.
Two events stand out in my mind during those racially charged times in our Nation, particularly events in my hometown of Anniston, Alabama. These memories are so potent that even now, I weep.
This first memory dates back to 1963 when I first met Dr. King. I had just presented a play at the 17th Street Baptist Church in Anniston. I had written, directed, and acted in a play characterizing the Birmingham bombing in which four young girls were killed (six people total were killed) at the 16th Street Baptist Church. I was then only a child myself but I was passionate in my belief that the Birmingham bombing was a heinous act of murder. Given the opportunity to express my heartfelt and gut wrenching feelings to my community was an awesome privilege and release. And still I weep.
It was a packed house that night and Dr. King was in attendance. I was introduced to him as the teen responsible for the play. Dazed and much honored, I went on to march with Dr. King and many other civil rights icons. I remember Ralph David Abernathy, Hosea Williams, Andrew Young, Dorothy Cotton, James Orange, and the list goes on.
The second memory came later as a student at Tuskegee Institute. Fresh from marches during my high school years and fired up from sit-ins and organizational meetings with Dr. King, I was eager to join the Tuskegee Institute Advancement League (TIAL). As such, my friend and fellow student activist, Sammy Younge Jr. was slain trying to use a whites- only bathroom at a Standard Oil gas station in Tuskegee, Alabama. He was the first black student to be killed as a result of his involvement in the civil rights movement. After serving in the Navy, he had enrolled in 1965. And still I weep.
Our Country has changed since Dr. King’s death 43 years ago; we now have an African-American in the White House, President Barack Obama. I am joyous and yet I weep. Sadly, I am reminded of a telling statement made regarding another great leader, Frederick Douglass. “Teaching him to read and write will make him unfit for slavery,” was uttered by Douglass’ slave owner at that time. We need be always unfit for slavery; we have work to do.