(In remembrance of Dr Martin Luther King and all he did to change how we think and believe.)
The day that Dr Martin Luther King was assassinated, I was an innocent second grader surrounded by other little white kids like me. Most of us had never heard of him. Our school was segregated, although at the time we didn't know what that meant. Many of us hadn’t even seen a black person before.
But it wasn't long before the Civil Rights movement marched into our lives.
Every summer my family would drive from our home near the Central Florida beaches to Indiana to visit relatives. To get there we drove through the Deep South.
It was on one such trip that I learned an unforgettable lesson.
We stopped in a sweet little Georgia town for lunch. It was charming, with immaculate homes lining brick streets, resplendent in the shade of giant mossy oak trees; a restful picture complete with an old fashioned Greco Roman style courthouse.
On the way back to the highway, Dad stopped at a service station to gas up the car. I went to get a drink from their water fountain.
But before I got my first sip, a big sweaty man in overalls gently pulled me away.
"Oh no honey darlin’, ya’ll don’t want watah from here. This here's nasty watah. Over yonder is where pretty lil white girls drink."
The sign over the fountain I’d chosen read "COLOREDS".
A few years later our segregated elementary school admitted two black students; a little boy and girl. The white kids stared at them like they were zoo exhibits. My heart hurt for them because they seemed so lonely. When I tried to play with them, they didn't want anything to do with me.
Maybe they were told that whites were bad and couldn't be trusted. Considering the startling ignorance all around me, they had every reason to keep their distance. It must have taken tremendous courage to attend an all white school each day and blaze a trail for those who followed them down a path of desegregated learning.
However the poster child for bravery was undoubtedly Dr. Martin Luther King. Because he fervently believed that all men were created equal he was brutally murdered, but not before he had a chance to lay the groundwork for transformation. His words and example have inspired many to be mindful of what we have in common rather than what separates us. Because of his leadership and ability to dream, many of the changes he hoped for have become reality and there are more to follow.
Rest in peace Dr. King.
And thank you.
Michelle Close Mills ©