Today MLK Would be a Rock Star 01/17/11
As many readers know, my mother’s family goes back several generations here in Central Florida. However, through the process of blogging about the Orlando-area, I have learned so many new things. I am not proud of all of them.
When I took the Orlando cemetery tour with Don Price, I was disappointed to hear how divided the Central Florida community was, how even in death, the racism continued with people insisting blacks and whites (as well as Northerners and Confederates) be buried in different sections of a cemetery. I was simply dismayed to hear how Judge Cheney had a black man lynched on his property in order to “prove a point.”
Growing up I never knew about any of this. I never learned about Mims or read Langston Hughes’ “The Ballad of Harry Moore” or even heard a word about Rosewood. You see, my childhood, like most white children’s of my generation, had been “whitewashed” in a manner of speaking.
My neighborhood was mostly white, and indeed Winter Park High School had maybe 15 black students in attendance while I was there. As a minority group, blacks were allowed to choose their public school and most went to nearby Edgewater High School.
Growing up I did have some wonderful friends who were black, including now Eatonville councilman Alvin Moore and Dr. Ernest Page, Jr. MD (whom I travelled all over the Soviet Union with), but races still did not mix much outside their own. In fact, things had not changed in Winter Park too much since my mother’s time, when most blacks lived on the “west side” of the railroad tracks and Hannibal Square was known for being the social center of a historically black neighborhood, not a chic shopping district.
However, all of this had a certain influence on me; since racism was never spoken of, I never really knew it existed here. Fortunately, it never occurred to me to judge somebody based on the color of their skin rather than the content of their character. I was mortified when I discovered somebody who chose to do the former, thinking them terribly out-dated and ignorant.
When I reached the University of Florida and was finally exposed to a student body of every color, nationality, and religion on Earth, I found most fellow students to be the same as me; just trying to make it as a little fish in a big pond. My collegiate cheerleading squad had all different colors wearing the orange and blue, and it was strange to me when the occasional somebody asked if there was “ever any problem” having different races on the squad together. (Uh, say what?!) Just for your information, no there wasn’t. And I am thankful to have broadened my horizons past white Winter Park.
I am now an English teacher at a school where I have students of all faiths, nationalities, and races. I have taught blacks, whites, Indians, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and even my first Jain a year or so ago. I am grateful for the experiences and even more thankful that today’s generation is growing up in a multi-cultural, Facebook-connected world. In my class we read about Ghandi, Marthin Luther King, Jr. (and indeed one of my student’s grandfather’s house was firebombed in Ohio due to Civil Rights!), so I am pleased we are all that much more informed. My students read books like Maniac Magee, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963.
After all, if we don’t learn about history, how can we learn from the mistakes of our muddied past?
As I said in a previous post, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Orlando only once, on March 6, 1964, the same year he became the youngest person to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize. I take great delight when I see the pride on my students’ face when I tell them about Martin Luther King’s visit here to Tinker Field.
And if he were still alive now days? Based on my students’ awed reactions, MLK would definitely be a rock star! And that in itself speaks well for us and our future!