Saturday, November 9, 2013

Assassination of the Kennedys

The day President John F. Kennedy was shot we also lost First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. 

President John F. Kennedy
First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy
Love Field, Dallas, Texas

The First Lady did not die on Friday, November 22, 1963, but the nation lost her as our First Lady, half of the power couple that would end Jim Crow laws in America.

It started out as such a special day at our school. We were assembled in the auditorium to watch the television coverage of President and Mrs. Kennedy's visit to Dallas. All the students were excited because they were just up the road  from us in Dallas, so close. At the time, I was attending an overcrowded, all-black public school, established under Jim Crow, laws  and traditions, typical of the era. Because we were looking forward to the end of segregation, our enthusiasm for this young president and his wife was very high in my school, as it was in other black schools and communities across the nation. "Nearly 100 years after the Civil War was supposed to end slavery," said my grandmother, Bigmama. "It may be near."

Young people in my school and old people at home  expected President Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy to do something for us, to help us in some way. There was finally hope in the White House with this young and seemingly modern, forward-thinking couple, following Dwight Eisenhower, who would not commit to civil rights, except in the most superficial way. 

Down with the old ways of thinking about race, we thought. and in with new race relations in America. We saw the end to Jim Crow in focus. When I think back on it, we kids were far too optimistic about our future. But that did not stop us from preparing for it. We studied, read and dreamed higher than our parents permitted themselves to dream. We kids thought it was time for change, especially after Rosa Parks, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Woolworth Sit-ins, the Freedom Riders and other demonstrations. We even questioned our parents about their lack of ambition. We were so dumb that we did not see the road our parents had prepared for us.

As kids, we were not sure what form the President and First Lady's help would take, but we had our expectations that President Kennedy would help us get rid of Jim Crow laws and that his First Lady would encourage him in this endeavor. We kids knew Jim Crow laws were meant to keep us in a certain place in society. "A low place," my grandmother said.

Custom Search fashion and everything else!

The white only and colored only signs of segregation, cloaked in antiquated separate but equal laws meant to keep the races apart, were painted on and hung in every public building and city park in town, and ours was not the only town in America that was segregated. In addition, segregation in housing, employment, education and other services were segregated in most of the rest of the nation's cities and small towns.

Rosa Parks & Martin Luther King
Montgomery Bus Boycott

My mother read a lot and made me read. She kept up with news on court decisions she thought may affect my education--Brown v the Board of Education and others. She respected Thurgood Marshall and thought he was good looking. I thought so, too. 

My mother took national magazines, black and mainstream, and black newspapers from cities around the country that covered protests, such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, sparked by Rosa Parks and led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I remember the Houston Informer, which is still in business, believed to be the oldest black newspaper published west of the Mississippi River in 1893. We had newspapers from New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and other places. My mother read them all.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott began in December 1955 and lasted for more than 300 days. 

We had gotten our first television by then, but there were virtually no news broadcasts, only fifteen minutes devoted to local news, which in our community was dominated by farming news. Fifteen minutes was all that was devoted to national news in the evening, as well. However, national news was committing most of their time to civil rights demonstrations.

Perhaps we kids and the grownups, too, were thinking President John F. Kennedy understood our predicament better than some of the past presidents. It wasn't like Kennedy was black or brown, but his religion made him different. And even if his religion was different from ours and he was also white and rich, we still felt he had more in common with us than the rest who had lived in the White House, except, maybe, Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman, both of whom were poor.

We gave Lincoln credit for freeing the slaves, but that was so long ago and who  knows what went on back then? What was supposed to change still had not changed in 100 years.

Black, brown  and other marginalized people still were not able to vote, get a decent education, receive health care, secure a good-paying job, order a meal in a restaurant or use a public restroom. The system was built on Jim Crows laws that were against most people of color. From our perspective, the Civil War had not ended, otherwise the efforts of Rosa Parks and the rest would be unnecessary. Black people were still slaves, only free to go home to their segregated neighborhoods at the end of the long workday with hardly any money to show for it.

Irish Brigade, Confederate Army

We were tired of waiting and Mr. Kennedy and the First Lady gave us reason to hope for change.

The First Lady's input was important in the White House, we thought. She was a young mother, who could surely sympathize with children being abused on television by the policemen. Her input in the White House against these actions had to be important. My mother's input was important in our household decisions. The First Lady would influence Mr. Kennedy's decisions to favor us, we so naively thought, unaware of the woman's real life and personal disappointments.

We were confident in President Kennedy because he came from an Irish-Catholic family that did not have special privileges when they arrived in Boston in the mid-1800s. My mother read that Kennedy's father, Joseph, had been a bootlegger before he got rich and became respectable. One of my grandmother's brothers-in-law had been a bootlegger, too. To us kids the Irish were no different from us. There was so much that we kids did not know about the social conditions in the United States, including the fact that some Irish fought in the Confederate Army.

"No Irish" Sign
Boston Sign Company 1915

Although the Irish were persecuted well into the twentieth century, Kennedy became our first Irish-Catholic president. None of us kids knew about back-room deals or political maneuvering that made this happen, but we heard grownups talking about how his religion hindered him, even if he was rich.

"Money can't change some things," my mother always said.

Lights went down in the quiet auditorium and teachers standing in aisles shushed us. This was their president, too. The television was sitting on the stage at the front. Its black-and-white screen was so small, most of us behind the second row couldn't see the actual pictures, but the feeling was as if we were there peering through a tiny window to the action in Dallas. The room was electrified,  not with noise or motion, but with a still and silent exuberance that each of us feltWhat a beautiful afternoon for a parade, I thought--sun shining, cool, no clouds, not a hint of rain or anything else to spoil the mood. 

Jacqueline Kennedy
It was particularly important that the First Lady didn't get rain to ruin her hairstyle and clothes. She wore dresses and suits that every want-to-be-classy woman and girl in America, including my mother and me, tried to imitate. "Simple is always best when it comes to clothes," my mother advised. "Good fit, strong seams and no fuss." To black women, the First Lady's most important features were her sable hair and brown eyes that sparkled without being blue. And Jacqueline Kennedy was gorgeous with her thick, dark brown hair with natural color that did not look like it came from a bottle.

First Lady Michelle Obama
& First Grandmother
Oh, we knew Mrs. Kennedy was a rich white woman living in the White House and we knew our lives could never be like hers. Until our current First Lady Michelle Obama, black women in America never dreamed of being First Lady.

Mrs. Obama, by the way, First Lady or not, is a stunning example of what Jacqueline Kennedy exemplified, comfortable elegance, passed on to her by an astute mother.

Until we got our current First Lady,  somehow African American women contented themselves with identifying with Mrs. Kennedy's articulation, charm, carriage, attire, intellect and uncomplicated presentation. We could achieve Jackie's look with ease, we thought, an amazing look without the appearance of trying too hard like so many actresses we saw in Hollywood films. Today, all American women are fortunate to have a role model in Michelle Obama, similar to the example set by Jacqueline Kennedy half a century ago.

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy gave us a form of glamour with substance that we, as black women, could copy and pass on to our daughters, like my mother tried to pass on to me and I tried to pass on to mine. No matter what Jackie Kennedy wore, however simple, the clothing looked like it belonged on her, which made her seem at ease and real--a wife, a mother, a homemaker and former career woman--a photojournalist before she married then Senator John F. Kennedy in 1953.

In November 1963, however, the First Lady still wasn't feeling well, my mother told me the night before the Dallas visit...something about losing her baby back in August of the same year. His name was Patrick, just two days old when he died. My mother had read about the baby's death. She read a lot. She bought magazines, newspapers, reference books and other reading materials that kept her current on everything from news to fashion to science to art and all else that seemed to affect our lives or not. She was interested.

The loss of the First Lady's baby son saddened my mother, who knew the pain of losing a child. My little brother was seven when he died. His name was John. He had been very, very ill that morning, much more so than other times. My mother was crying when she told me to go on to school. She said she had to take him to the doctor and she didn't want me to worry. I didn't want to leave them but I did. I was nine and sitting in Mrs. Davis's fourth grade class when my cousin came to the school to get me. I knew when she came into the room my brother had died. It was written all over her face as she placed my sweater around my shoulders. I slipped my arms in and followed her out of the classroom. Neither of us said a word. It was a cool Fall day that, in itself, held no hint of death in the air.


My mother, Littie Nash, wrestled with Jim Crow racism during the 1950s and 1960s, while giving me the life of a little princess with imagination and without the luxury of having a lot of money...Littie did not waste compliments on me or anyone else. She reserved accolades to celebrate real accomplishments, not just because I dragged myself out of bed before noon on Saturday or because I made an 'A' on my report card. "Some things you have to do," she said. "And those things pass, not without notice, but without an all-day hullabaloo."

To support my efforts, my mother sponsored piano, ballet, tennis and swimming lessons, dance performances, recitals, literary and classical music club memberships, summer camps, school trips and science fair exhibits, still managing to squeeze out of our tight budget money for the dentist to install braces on my teeth. It took a great deal of courage to live with dignity and raise me to have aspirations. About my upbringing, Littie got it right, although I took detours of my own along the way. Read more at: Great Mothering in Jim Crow's World.

Bigmama Didn't Shop 
at Woolworth's
It was a nice day for the president and his wife to visit Texas. I thought of all the kids in all the other states watching this parade and being jealous that the president was here instead of there, where they were, like I was wishing I was in Dallas watching the actual parade instead of the little jerky motions on that tiny screen on the auditorium stage. This day would document an era in American history to change the direction of my future.

Suddenly, with this president, I had a future, for which I could prepare and look forward, a future described to me by my mother, who pushed me toward a light that was brighter for me than it had been for her. Who knew that day would end the way it did? Who knows how any day will end?

I document my family's legacy in much of my writing and in my book, Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's, about life with my mother and her mother, Bigmama, during the civil rights movement. My father was there, too, but he was busy working hard to help my mother pay for things she wanted for me. I realize now that my mother wanted the same things for me that First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy wanted for her children, a happy and prosperous life. 

Images of the president's parade were interrupted at 12:30 p.m. Central Standard Time. Walter Cronkite came on trying to deliver the sad news and to calm the grieving nation, while he, himself, choked back tears. I was glad the screen was small and I couldn't see it well. I didn't want this news. Then someone pulled the plug on the television. The screen went black except for a tiny white glow in the middle that faded away slowly. Staring at the fading beam, no one dared to move. We didn't know what to do; just sat there staring at the little black hole on the stage that was once  a window to the future.

After school, I walked home in silence, confused. All of my classmates were silent, too, also confused, some angry, cursing invisible strangers and swinging fists at the air. What would we do without our President? Could that have been the way the freed slaves felt when President Lincoln was assassinated? Now what? More of the same? How long? Why? Was this all that would be left of the protests of the past? A sputtering out of all our efforts? What about Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King? What were they thinking now? How would we recover?

Was it selfish of me to take so personally the loss of this man I did not know? What must his family be feeling now? It had not occurred to me, at first, that a family was now without a husband, father, son, brother, uncle, cousin, nephew, friend...more alone than we were. How alone must the First Lady and their children be feeling? All I remembered for days to come was her bloodied pink suit that he had worn the entire day. What sorrow she bore.

I could imagine how that family felt because I had experienced the loss of my brother. My mother could imagine because she had experienced the loss of her son. After my little brother died, our house turned into a lonely shell for quite some time. We watched my mother going through the motions of living until she was able to live again with her great pain. She never talked about her grief with me, perhaps with Bigmama or my father, but not with me. I never talked about my grief with her, afraid I would hurt her more by bringing up my brother's name. We just went about life the best we could without him and wondered what life would have been like had he been there with us.

I feel the loss of my brother to this day, as I am sure my mother did until the day she died. Unlike the first family, the world was not here to share our losses with us. But what real good can the world's caring make? Somewhere deep in the privacy of the heart, hurt just hurts, whether the world is there to share it or not. In pain, there is little company that matters; maybe a smile or a nod acknowledging its presence. I don't know. Pain is like birth and death. You do them alone. No one can know how another person really feels. They can only imagine.

Jacqueline Kennedy : Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy Book with AUDIO Interview 8CDs Boxed set [Hardcover] [Audio CD] (Jacqueline Kennedy)
As much pain as she was feeling, four months after the assassination of her husband, former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy sat with Arthur Schlesinger and recorded Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. KennedyThe document of her husband's legacy produced 8.5 hours of interviews on eight CDs with a 400-page, illustrated hardcover transcript.

The late former First Lady talked in great detail about her personal life with the president and revealed secrets of their lives and relationship. At the time of the interviews and recording, Jacqueline Kennedy had decided that her words should not be released before 2011. Mrs. Kennedy's daughter and author, Caroline Kennedy, wrote the Foreword to her mother's collection; the introduction was written by historian, Michael Beschloss. The former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy's previously archived, taped interviews and photographs are now available to the public. Order below: is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

© 2011 Sunny Nash. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Obama on Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman & Race

President Obama speaks on race in America, a subject that will not go away. 

Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin's death and the George Zimmerman verdict did not cause racial divide in this country. The country was already divided.

Trayvon Martin's death and the George Zimmerman verdict have opened dialog on America's racial divide. 

The Martin death and Zimmerman verdict are difficult to approach without emotion, taking into consideration that two human beings--one who has been killed and one whose life has changed forever. Opening this American dialog on racial divide is comparable to opening a festering wound that seems to have gone untreated for centuries. However, treatment has been applied many times during the history of our nation. The problem is that the treatment had to be forced by circumstances that were resisted by certain factions of the population. For example, after the Civil War, in order to placate the old Confederacy, the Union handed over the U.S. Senate to the southern states that were fashioned new weapons to fight for their Lost Cause and Jim Crow was born to keep former slaves as close to slavery as possible. Then came the Civil Rights Movement that struck down Jim Crow laws that were replaced by more subtle forms of discrimination and so on and so on.

The purpose of this blog post is:
Not to re-teach American History
Not to retry the Zimmerman case
Not to question the jury

The purpose of this blog post is to help me better understand what is going on in my world. And please bare with me because the only way I know to do this is to do what I do--write. As I write, I am able to dissect my nation's racial divide, examine and compare the history of civil rights protests over this racial divide, and assess President Obama's response to recent unrest associated the death of Trayvon Martin and the George Zimmerman verdict.

Recent controversy and heated exchanges between the different factions of American society over Trayvon Martin's death and the George Zimmerman verdict make it clear that we, as a nation, have a problem, a serious problem in race relations that did not start with the shooting of a teenage boy by a neighborhood watch captain. The problem runs deep into the soul of America's violent origins and development. As much as I love this country and would not want to live or to have been born in any other, I think it is time to make a close observation of what most of us do not understand or do not want to see and, certainly, do not want to acknowledge about our nation. We are divided. We pretend otherwise in each other's faces. But what happens behind closed doors and closed minds?

A long way from healing, if ever, is in our future if we do not change the way we talk about each other behind each other's backs because the way we talk about each other behind closed doors reveals how we feel about each other. Don't get me wrong, I do not care if you love me and you should not care if I love you. What should matter to both of us, however, is how we treat each other. Now, if it takes a law to make me treat you better and make you treat me better, then make a law. However, the law will not bring us out of the mired abyss we have created here in our beloved country, but it will make us tolerate each other until we grow more accustomed to being around each other.

Rosa Parks & Martin Luther King
Montgomery Bus Boycott
Stride Toward Freedom:
(Google Affiliate Ad)
As I see it, the racial divide that keeps people in the state of unrest is more about a cultural divide. Those who have are intolerant of those who do not have, or those perceived to not have. Because history has prescribed certain skin to be associated with those who do not have, a stereotype formed. 

Well, it is time to bury that outdated character along with Jim Crow, a minstrel character that represented a set of legal discriminatory statutes that began a dismantling with Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, and other civil rights leaders of that era who had a clear set of goals to get specific laws struck down. This struggle had a much more directed purpose than where to sit on a bus. 

The laws on the books changed, but the way we perceive each other remains fundamentally unchanged as people in different cultural settings and income brackets grow farther and farther apart in lifestyle and understanding of a common environment. We, the amalgamated Americans, do not trust each other to do the right thing toward one another. Could our own racism be how we got to this current state of agitation? Could racist-fueled distrust be why so many have hijacked this death and verdict?

Is racial divide beyond repair? 
If racial divide is beyond repair, where do we go from here? 
If racial divide is not beyond repair, how do we go about repairing it?
Have we become too comfortable with our own racism?

As I see it, the racial divide that continues to deepen in this country was a racial ditch long before we knew who George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin were. Here is another thing. Is right to use Trayvon Martin in this way? Does he deserve to have his image defiled, waved on flags, worn on clothing or flashed on posters? Would this be the case if there was no racial divide in America? Could selfish motivations be tempted to use him that way if there was no racial divide? 

In fact, if there was no racial divide in our nation, we probably would not know who the principals in this case were. There would be no reason to know the names of the judge or attorneys or witnesses or others, if we were not a nation divided along a color line cut so deeply into our own racist, yet mixed race flesh. 

Barack Obama:
"We Are One People 
(Google Affiliate Ad)
Americans did not think racial divide was beyond repair when the nation elected a mixed race white and black president twice, a man who is black, even though his mother was white and the grandparents who raised him were white, a black man because, when you look at him, he looks like a black man.

Depending on how the genetic cards fall, a mixed race person does not have to look mixed race to be mixed race.

In this country, a black person rarely gets to choose sides. If we look black or can be demonstrated as being black, we are black. Historically, the one drop rule classified people as black if African heritage could be demonstrated in their bloodline, no matter how minute the drop and even when they did not look black. Looking like a black person and being treated like a black man, he or she must accept the fact that he or she is a black person. The U.S. Census has recently begun allowing Racially Mixed People in America (Google Affiliate Ad) to declare their racial identity by providing multiple racial choices on Census documents. However, surveys show that mixed raced persons are still considered and treated as black if any feature can be detected in them by the observer.

From the moment President Obama entered public service, he seemed to take on the responsibility of trying to promote unity, healing and equality as demonstrated in We Are One People. Maybe the president assumed this role because understands better than most the layered fabric of the nation's ethnicity and race under the flag of one nation. The death of Trayvon Martin and the George Zimmerman verdict leave us wondering: 

Are we really one people? 
Have we ever been one people? 
Can we ever be one people?

George Zimmerman's Family
First Broadcast on CNN
Standing: Grandmother
Sitting: Great Grandfather
The Zimmerman verdict gives a divided nation an excuse to indulge itself in some very deep and old racial wounds that have roots in slavery and Jim Crow laws. People want to blame someone for all that miserable history that seems to keep rearing its head, even if the someone they are blaming is as non-white as they are and even if their great grandfather looks like he could be their own great grandfather.

Can these mixed race black people really be white?

Race relations in America is a complicated issue upon which the first African American President of the United States must tread carefully, as not to be aligned too closely with one ethnic group over others and, thereby, be accused of favoritism for some and not others. This may seem an unfair burden for a black president, considering that some presidents in the past favored one race over all others. That was during a time when there were clearly defined races and not the mixed race ethnic entanglement that many families today are free to embrace. 

Yesterday's Jim Crow laws outlawed, but did not stop, sexual relationships between mixed race couples, declared all offspring of those mixed race relationships as illegitimate and prosecuted offenders to discourage the practice of miscegenation. During slavery and into the 20th Century, many mixed race relationships were not mutually welcome. Rape and lynching were part of that legacy of slavery and became an integral part of the legal battles of Rosa Parks (Google Affiliate Ad), Sojourner Truth (Google Affiliate Ad) and Ida B. Wells (Google Affiliate Ad) in a century-long movement (1850s-1950s) against Jim Crow laws that allowed rape and lynching of black women and girls. Laws outlawing mixed race marriages stayed on the books until the case, Loving v Virginia, reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967.

This is the setting of the American legacy against which the death of Trayvon Martin and the George Zimmerman verdict are set and the reasoning behind President Obama's statements regarding the matter.

Custom Search your questions.

President Obama treads a racial divide. 

When addressing the nation about the death of Trayvon Martin and the George Zimmerman verdict, I believe the president did so in an effort to comfort the nation, in the hope of fostering understanding and in the desire to keep the peace in a divided nation, a nation he inherited from generations of presidents before him, going all the way back to the Founding Fathers. This latest speech on race is not this president's first speech on race relations and may not even be his last in a divided nation.

President Barack Obama Speaks on Race:The Trayvon Martin death and George Zimmermam verdict

When I was a little girl, my mother used to say,  "We are so mixed up as a country, everybody hates everybody and they don't even know why." 

I had no idea what my mother meant at the time. As I have grown older, I can see the wisdom in her words. Today, mixed race is also called racial ambiguity. My mother is part Comanche through her mother, Bigmama, whom I write about because she intrigues me so. On her father's side, my mother is part Kiowa. The Comanche and Kiowa were violent, feared and hated Amerindian partners on the Western Frontier. It was safer to be black than Indian, Bigmama told me. There were whole bands of prairie people, as she called her Native American relatives, that disappeared among African Americans. There were no viable laws against shooting Native Americans and there was no need for a reason so they vanished in plain sight, Bigmama said. The mixture of the bloodlines of Amerindians and African Americans made the children of these unions neither race.

"People do not always care who they are mistreating," my mother said. "They can't tell who is staring them in the face like a mirror. They see what they want to see. And that's what you become to them. Act in a certain way and become regarded in that way, whatever that way may be."

Littie Nash
Littie Nash
Littie Nash was one of the great thinkers and also possessed elevated written and verbal communication skills. She wanted me to be a thinker, too, and make more of my life than she had been allowed to make of hers, although she managed, through school later in her life, to become a credentialed nutritionist and award-winning baker. 

My mother did not waste compliments on me. She reserved accolades to celebrate real accomplishments, not just because I dragged my lazy butt out of bed before noon on Saturday or because I made an 'A' on my report card. "Some things you have to do," she said. "And those things are recognized, but there will be no all-day hullabaloo."

It took a great deal of courage and imagination during the era of Jim Crow laws for my mother to give me what she thought I needed. Jobs for African Americans were scarce and good jobs were mostly nonexistent for members of our community. Black women were mostly relegated to domestic work and publicly disrespected on a routine basis, as demonstrated by Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Black men were economically and politically marginalized as well. My father had his little ranch to insulate him against some discrimination, but certainly not all.

Sunny Nash, Age 16
My mother demanded a certain behavior from me and that behavior included language use, carriage, attire, and how I spend my time and with whom I associated. "If you present yourself in a certain way," she said, "People perceive you in a certain way, good or bad. If you hang around certain types of people, you are regarded in the same way as those people."

To support me, my mother and father sponsored piano, ballet, tennis and swimming lessons, dance performances, recitals, literary and classical music club memberships, summer camps, school trips and science fair exhibits, still managing to squeeze out of our tight budget money for the dentist to install braces on my teeth and put contact lenses in my eyes when I was fourteen. Sometimes, I wonder how I would have made in a different family that would have let me stumble around half blind with crooked teeth and "emasculating the King's English," as my mother used to say. "I have not gone through all this Jim Crow crap in my life to raise up a fool who does not know how to carry herself."

Read more about my mother in my blog post: Great Mothering in Jim Crow's World. Also check out another of my blog posts about the significance my mother placed on a college education. She believed that ignorance was an illness that could only be cured by learning. "People can learn on their own if they know how to read," she said often. "You do not have to go to college to learn and become educated. But education may help you get a better job." Read: College Education Was my Mothers Plan.

I am not so naive that I think people do not have to choose sides, but sometimes your side was chosen for you, maybe even before you were born. 

I have a dear friend in his eighties. To look at us, we could not be more different. I can't remember how the subject came up, but one day when we were having coffee, he told me he was not ashamed of being glad he was born as a white man. "I can't see how I would have made it as a black men," he said. "I know I would have somehow; they do make it, somehow. I can't imagine being a white woman; they had it hard in the old days, couldn't vote or have too much say-so over their lives. And I sure as hell couldn't have made it as you!" 

I told him, "I sure as hell wouldn't want to be you, either, but I would have done what I could with it."

"I'm sure you would have," he said. "But I respect you more for doing all that you have being you. Being me was a breeze, compared to what I imagine it was like being you."

We were trying to get into a skin different from the one into which we were born. And when we decided we couldn't actually exchange places in any meaningful way, we were still friends, drank our coffee, hugged at the door and went our separate ways home. I love that man, not because he's white, not because he's black, but because he is real. 

  • Why does society make us choose sides? 
  • What side do you take? 

That's how we the people have divided and subdivided and subdivided ourselves again over the centuries of our existence. In my own group of relatives, there are divisions by complexion, hair, features, size, body shape, whatever we can find to draw lines between ourselves. Now, if our families are divided, how can society not be? 

I'd like to tell you this little story:
I knew an Italian family when I was growing up. They owned a store in our neighborhood and lived in back of the store. There were three children in the family. The youngest, a boy, was about my age. He was not allowed to play with the black kids very often. That was all right. We kids knew why. 

When I was five or six, my grandmother started sending me to the store to get a loaf of bread or something while she watched dinner on the stove. When I got a little older, I'd hang around and talk to the storekeeper, asking him a million questions until another customer came in or he told me to get along home. Sometimes. om my way out of the store, I saw his youngest son watching and listening through the screen just outside the door to the store. 

One day, when I was in the store for a stick of butter or something, the storekeeper and I got to talking about his arrival into this country. I must have asked him about his accent or something. He told me that when he and his brother got off of the boat and went into a holding area, he was separated from his brother. 

"What? I asked.

"I'm dark-skinned and my brother is light or at least he was back then."

I inspected the storekeeper, who I considered to be sort of white, I thought, not as white as some people I'd seen, but white enough.

 "The authorities tried to mark my papers with a 'C', he said.


"I told them no! Don't do that to me!"

"Why did they want to mark you with a 'C?'"

"Everybody knows 'C' stands for colored. It was going to be hard enough for me to be dark in this country, let alone have my paper stamped with a 'C.' That would classify me as a Negro!"

A little offended, I stepped back from the counter, but I didn't say anything.

"If I had let them do that to me, my children wouldn't be any better than you."

Then I knew I had interpreted the offense correctly and so had he. The storekeeper's eyes went almost teary as he looked at me sadly. So much information passed between us.

 "I'm sorry," he said. 

After that, I didn't hang around in the store anymore, and we didn't talk, except when he waited on me and took my money at the counter. We both understood the change. A couple of years later, after his youngest son started to pour his unwanted attention me, they moved to a brand new pink brick house on the outskirts of town. The time had come for the racial divide...and life went on.

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Bigmama Didn't Shop  At Woolworth's by Sunny Nash
Bigmama Didn't Shop 
At Woolworth's
by Sunny Nash
Sunny Nash Selected News Releases
Sunny Nash
Selected News Releases
Sunny Nash, a leading author on U.S. race relations, is author of Bigmama Didn't Shop at Woolworth's, which began when Nash was writing syndicated newspaper columns for Hearst and Knight-Ridder newspapers.

Stories came from her childhood during the era of Jim Crow laws with her part-Comanche grandmother, Bigmama, during the Civil Rights Movement.  

Robin Fruble of Southern California said, "Every white person in America should read this book! Sunny Nash writes the story of her childhood without preaching or ranting but she made me realize for the first time just how much skin color changes how one experiences the world. But if your skin color is brown, it matters a great deal to a great number of people. I needed to learn that. Sunny Nash is a great teacher," Fruble said.

Bigmama Didn't Shop at Woolworth's is recognized by the Association of American University Presses for its value to the understanding of U.S. race relations and recommended for Native American collections by the Miami-Dade Public Library System in Florida. 

© 2013 Sunny Nash. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Martin Luther King - March on Washington & The Dream

Martin Luther King's 'I Have A Dream,' speech at the March on Washington established the tone for the Civil Rights Movement against Jim Crow laws.

Martin Luther King, I Have A Dream, 1963 March on Washington, Lincoln Memorial DC
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream Speech

Never forget the Dream or the March on Washington! 

The importance of Martin Luther King's dream takes on new meaning for a nation trapped within racial divide, a divide with roots in the era of Jim Crow laws. 

Martin Luther King, starting with Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, came into national prominence fighting Jim Crow laws. I couldn't get enough of the news media coverage of the March on Washington and other civil rights protests around the nation, some violent and others peaceful. The protests surrounding the Martin death and Zimmerman verdict do not seem to have a clear focus. The crowds in some cities wander the streets seemingly aimlessly with a vague notion, if any notion at all, as to exactly what they hope to accomplish or how. Without a plan, modern protesters will probably not be able to accomplish anything meaningful, no matter how noble their motives.

Carpooling, Montgomery Bus Boycott 
(Life Magazine)

Peace is what Martin Luther King, Jr., stood for, setting an example for future leaders to follow. 

Protesters today, however, unlike those of yesteryear, do not observe the peace teachings of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks who quietly kept her seat and sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. This quiet action by a dignified Rosa Parks began the dismantling of Jim Crow laws in the United States. Those who protested Jim Crow laws even took resistance training against racist brutality, risked their lives and spent time in southern jails and prisons during the Freedom Riders.

People looking to create harmony and peace create an atmosphere for intelligent discourse.

At the time of the March on Washington, America had no idea that, one day Martin Luther King Day would be a day of national celebration. To many people, black and white, back then, King was regarded as an agitator, a troublemaker. "Leave things as they are," shouted some black and white voices. "He's making things worse for people in the South! He's going to get us all killed! And for what?" But Martin Luther King had a dream that one day U.S. race relations would be different, especially for the children. And he was right. Race relations are different for some of the children. Other of the children, both black and white, are raised in homes that use racial epithets against people of different ethnic backgrounds. 

People regard a racial epithet as normal language usage.

Here we are as a nation still trying to figure out race relations 50 years after Martin Luther King patiently tried to explain to us what racial harmony means so we could teach our children a different lesson than the one we were taught about race. And where are we? Discussing a Cheerios commercial? What happened to the dream? Must we constantly be reminded of the dream?

Google ReviewThe Dream by Drew D. Hansen - On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., electrified the nation when he delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In "The Dream," Drew D. Hansen explores the fascinating and little-known history of King's legendary address. The Dream insightfully considers how King's speech "has slowly remade the American imagination," and led us closer to King's visionary goal of a redeemed America.

When Dr. King led the March on Washington, I had just turned 14 years old. I was glued to the television watching all those people surrounding him, looking up to him for leadership. I was not aware that his efforts would change the way school children in America got an education. It only dawned on me later that education was the primary part of the dream. Education represented hope in the black community in which I grew up. Overcoming the fear of trying to get that education is a theme that recurs in Martin Luther King's speeches and was a recurring theme in my home.

Having observed Martin Luther King on television leading up to the March on Washington, I could see that he was one of the most articulate and accomplished men the United States had ever produced, black or white. In 1960, before my eleventh birthday, I had seen Dr. King formulating thoughtful responses to the issues of race relations in America on Meet the Press, a news program, on which he appeared five times. At first, my mother had to make me watch these television shows. Then I got hooked on them. Although television was in its infancy at the time, news coverage of the Civil Rights Movement was like no other coverage ever given to African Americans before. Today's Zimmerman verdict protesters do not compare in preparation or presentation.

Martin Luther King
Meet the Press

What impressed me most about Dr. King's interviews was his education, which showed in his ability to think first and then speak--enunciation, vocabulary and organization of ideas--and his incredible command of the English language, even when he was being interviewed by news broadcasters without the convenience of a script prepared in advance. I never forgot that his success on television was his calm manner of articulating an issue without allowing himself to lose control. I was impressed.

Contrary to public assumption, although he was articulate and quick minded, King wrote and rewrote speeches he intended to deliver in front of an audience or on television. Using bits and pieces of his writing from many different talks, he sometimes adapted phrases and passages to suit the occasion and carefully selected the right words for each audience. The I Have a Dream speech evolved over the years from sermons and experiences, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Rosa Parks, nights in jail, conferences with powerful leaders and conflicts with Jim Crow laws, culminating in his eloquent speech about the American Dream, which King dared to claim as a dream meant for all Americans.

College education and higher academic degrees proved to be the key to King's success as a writer, public speaker, minister and social, political and civil rights activist. I knew that a college education was a dream I wanted to realize because, without academic training, I could not expect a good job and tolerable future during the era of Jim Crow. King's dream was about school and education that led to equal housing, access to services, jobs, legal representation, voting and political participation. 

Old folks said, "Education was something black people could not get until years after Jim Crow had eased up somewhat." 

I guess that's what made education so important. But my mother took education a little farther. She always said, "Success is no accident. Even people born into wealth aren't guaranteed success and they'd better hold on to the money their folks left them because without desire, hard work, education or some kind of preparation and a break or two, they won't be able to add to that wealth."

In spite of our strides in U.S. race relations, distrust and hate can still be seen in America in the young, old, black, white, every shade in between and every group in the United States, while more and more Americans see themselves as being cheated out of their dream by the othersMartin Luther King's dream is still unfulfilled, and not in the way one may imagine. King's dream was for human equality, racial harmony and the American dream for all Americans, which meant the overthrow of Jim Crow laws, a legal system that was put into the grave. However, the ghost of Jim Crow lingers in hidden recesses at the heart of our nation. No one wants to admit that the legacy of Jim Crow still colors our beliefs, public policy and criminal justice system.

I feel the need to review Dr. Martin Luther King's academic credentials and leadership awards, and to take a careful listen to his I Have a Dream Speech to hear what he said, examine what it meant and determine how we have been affected by his words. King was educated, articulate and a prolific author, speechwriter and orator. What must be remembered about King is that he was a minister and preacher, brought up in a home of preachers. His father, Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr., and maternal grandfather, Rev. Adam Daniel Williams, exposed him throughout his childhood to some of the best preachers in America. From this exposure, King, developed his style of speaking and being.

Many speeches contributed to the birth of the I Have a Dream Speech until it was perfected and set in concrete at the Lincoln Memorial. Right up to his taking the podium, it is said that King made refinements to his talk, against the advice of some of his trusted advisers.

I Have A Dream by Martin Luther King

17-minute Speech

Read and Analyze Complete Text

It all started with a dream, imagined by a man, who had hope, as he was pulled into a movement that would change history. Did Dr. King know so many Americans would be angry when race relations in America changed? Did Dr. King know these angry Americans would pass their anger on to their children like their angry ancestors had passed on to them? 

Whether Dr. King anticipated these questions or not, these are issues in U.S. race relations that still haunt our nation. 

That is precisely why we must open the discussion of race relations in America to realize and then reveal that we still have problems in the area of education, housing, jobs and access to services; and also to demonstrate that we have gained ground in all the time, tears and blood shed over all the years between the Civil War and today. We have gained ground, haven't we? By seeing the gains we have made in race relations in America, we can pass the fruits of those gains on to our children.

We have reached in period in our history where children today see a black president and his family living in the White House as a normal occurrence. This is quite a feat considering, in the  past, under Jim Crow tradition at the founding of our nation, African Americans were only allowed to enter that house through a back servant's entrance.

What a legacy Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., left for all Americans. Proof of that legacy is the first family. Read the full text and view  the full video of President Barack Obama's speech on race relations in America.

Today, we seem to be a nation of people making remarks about each other getting too big a slice of a shrinking American pie and making excuses as to why we should not like each other or work together toward a better America. 

    Bigmama Didn’t Shop  At Woolworth’s  Sunny Nash

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Sunny Nash author of bigmama didn't shop at woolworth's
Sunny Nash is an author, producer, photographer and leading writer on U.S. race relations. 

Sunny Nash writes books, blogs, articles and reviews, and produces media and images on U.S. history and contemporary American topics, ranging from Jim Crow laws to social media networking. Sunny Nash is the author of Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's (Texas A&M University Press), about life with her part-Comanche grandmother during the Civil Rights Movement.

Sunny Nash’s book is recognized by the Association of American University Presses as essential for understanding U.S. race relations. Nash's book is also listed in the Bibliographic Guide for black studies at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York; and recommended for Native American collections by the Miami-Dade Public Library System in Florida. Nash uses her book to write articles and blogs on race relations in America through topics relating to her life--from music, film, early radio and television, entertainment, social media, Internet technology, publishing, journalism, sports, education, employment, the military, fashion, performing arts, literature, women's issues, adolescence and childhood, equal rights, social and political movements--past and present—to today's post-racism. homepage

© 2015 Sunny Nash. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. 
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