I was born in Maryland in 1952. As a southern state, Maryland didn't align itself with such "deep south" cousins as the Carolinas, Georgia or Mississippi. Still it didn't imitate its northern neighbors either. The state was still rife with "old south" traditions such as public schools teaching classes in etiquette. There were other southern traditions too, but they were not so polite.
Segregation was alive and well in Maryland. Bathrooms had "whites only" and "colored" versions. You didn't usually see the "whites only" bathrooms but you always saw the "colored" ones. It wasn't until I was older that I understood the significance. The "colored" ones were all outside-in rain, snow, wind-if you were "colored" you went outside. The "whites only" were all inside.
Everything was separate-dining, public transportation, schools, even the entrances to stores. I had never gone to school with a black person until I was in High School. I was 3 when I met my first black people. The men were horse-drawn fruit cart drivers who would go up and down our Baltimore streets hawking fresh fruits and vegetables. The men would sell their wares and give out free samples. Despite the fact that all parents acted friendly to the men, warnings were always whispered to not get "too close." None of those men ever did a thing wrong, but still we needed to be careful.
On August 28, 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. and delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. What I remember most about that time is that many of the people around were not impressed-they were angry. King was called many things, none of them flattering. The majority of whites did not portray Dr. King as a man of peace. They instead portrayed him as a man filled with hate. Even winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 didn't seem to make many people like him any better.
One of the most vivid memories of my life was being with a group of white adults on April 4, 1968. When the news broke that Dr. King had been shot and killed, one of the adults in the group burst out with, "thank God we're free at last!" The laughter was loud and hard.
Today, these things would seem unbelievable. Still more unbelievable is when they occurred. Blacks were given the right to vote in 1957, only 49 years ago. However a "poll tax" which was not eliminated until 1964 still prevented many blacks from being able to vote. School segregation ended in 1969 (37 ago). Bus segregation ended in 1956 (50 years ago).
There is now a holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a man of peace who died a violent death. When the decision was made to create a King holiday many protested saying his works didn't warrant the honor. In the end his legacy triumphed and King's words still live on.
"In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence."
Shelley Castetter lives in Bart Township. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.