Sunday, September 01, 2013

50 Years Ago: MLK and the march

I’d never seen signs like this before. “Colored Entrance” “Whites Only” Rest Rooms and drinking fountains with arrows for “Whites” and “Colored.” These signs appeared at our rest stops more frequently as we moved further south. About 30 of us were traveling by chartered bus from Boston to North Carolina for a week-long conference. We couldn’t ignore the signs; they applied to our ragtag, multiracial group of teenagers.

I was sixteen and committed to the passage of civil rights. Idealistic.  Naive.  Most of us had never been south before. We were outraged at the signs and vowed to give them none of our business. If we couldn’t all eat together we wouldn’t eat.

Boston wasn’t the most liberal of places. Earlier that spring my mother told the folks at her hairdresser’s that our family would be hosting some kids overnight for a weekend church conference. Someone asked what she would do if one of the kids assigned to us was a negro? Mother had never thought about it but answered Make them feel at home. Sure enough, Wally, one of the two boys assigned to us, was black. The spare room had a double bed which Mother had expected two girls would share. Now we had two adolescent boys – one black and one white, Mother was initially freaked. Boys didn’t share beds. The boys didn’t care. And if there were repercussions from parents or neighbors, I never heard about them.

The summer conference was at a Quaker school, Guilford College, in Greensboro, NC. Guilford had voluntarily integrated the campus the year before -- 1962, They might have been the only southern college that would host our multiracial group and shared our commitment to civil rights. They had helped us arrange a day of service with the local black hospital. Our work crews spent the day cleaning, painting, and fixing things. Somehow, I always ended up on the paint crew.

I felt like we were trying to make a silk purse from the proverbial sow’s ear. The hospital was old and the patients poor. It was depressing and overcrowded. Our one day of work was a drop in the bucket, but this trip south was teaching me about life.

Most of us planned to spend our second week in Washington DC. Word about the March on Washington was spreading.  I was excited about exploring the Smithsonian, the zoo, the pawn shops and streets of the city. But most of all, I was excited by the March on Washington taking shape on Wednesday.

The city had a magic about it. People were arriving from everywhere by bus, train, hitchhiking, walking, driving. Everyone was friendly and interested in where you were from and why you came.
I like to pretend that when you look at that picture of the reflecting pool and the mall filled with people, you can see me. I’m right there on the left side, not far from the water, sitting with some of the best friends I’ve ever had. 

The day was hot, the program long, the sky perfectly blue.  Every celebrity and politician was introduced and it seemed like there were hundreds of them. Mahalia Jackson and Marion Anderson, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Peter, Paul & Mary broke up the   speeches. ‘We shall overcome’ echoed throughout the city.

It was an amazing, peaceful day that changed many of our lives. Malcolm X, may have criticized the march, describing it as "a picnic" and "a circus".and, it was that. But that’s not bad. Fifty years later it’s still one of the most memorable days of my life. I listen to the MLK speech every year with mixed emotions and lots of tears. So much has changed for us all since 1963, But not enough
August 29, 2013

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Cancer Status: August 31, 2013

 I had a brain scan two weeks ago and got the results this Friday. My anxiety grew as Friday approached.. I was sure my health was deteriorating and bad news was on the way. That just goes to show how out of touch I am with my body.

Things either haven't changed or they are better. My lab values are good; tumor markers continue to improve. Physical exam revealed that the tumors are shrinking. My ankle and shoulder have healed. Many days it's hard to believe I'm so fortunate when NPR radio is broadcasting the deaths or hundreds and sometimes thousands.

Ruth's new body image
The only area of concern is my weight. I've lost too much. For those of you who have known me for a long time, this may be hard for you to imagine and it is a mixed blessing for me. I've lost a lot - I've given away many of my clothes gathered from years spent combing thru Good Will and the Salvation Army. I couldn't keep my pants up any more.  My jacket shoulders droop to my elbows. My shirts are like tents and my arms are like sticks. There's no apparent reason for the loss. My appetite is good. I'm not depressed. All my markers are good.

The next step is to check my thyroid. I'll get the lab work done next week. Meanwhile, I've added additional carbs to my diet. That's tricky to do while avoiding sugar, but it sure is fun!

The MD also shared his pessimism about me ever driving again. He knows what a loss this is for me. I ask him about  it every time I see him. I'll probably keep asking him, too.

But I'm relieved and grateful to be doing so well. I hope you are doing well, too, and look forward to your news.

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