On Wednesday, August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech on the Mall in Washington, D.C. I was nine. I have no memory of seeing that event on the evening news – I’m pretty sure I didn’t even know it happened until several years later when we were studying civil rights in my eighth-grade social studies class. Later in 1963, on Sunday, September 15, to be exact, Thomas Edwin Glanton Jr. and three fellow members of the Ku Klux Klan set off sixteen sticks of dynamite underneath the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Four black schoolgirls, all just a little older than I, were killed by the blast. They had been in the church basement, putting on their choir robes to sing in the morning worship service. It was years before that got on my radar and even longer before it broke my heart,
It would have been unusual for a little white boy to spend much time thinking about these things. But it’s nonetheless revealing that these events went virtually unnoticed by me until years later. I remember exactly where I was when John F. Kennedy was shot. I remember all the impassioned things the adults in my world said about his death. But I have only the faintest of memories about the civil rights movement, and I can’t recall any adults in my life who seemed to care much about the suffering and injustice woven into that struggle.
As I reflected on this as an adult, I realized the three institutions that are supposed to contribute to the moral education of a little boy rang silent for me as black people suffered for the cause of racial justice. I don’t recall hearing much about Jim Crow or violence toward black Americans at my elementary school. The subject never came up at the church we attended. And while my family talked about all sorts of things around the dinner table, we never talked about racial inequality.
From “Black and White: Disrupting Racism One Friendship At A Time” by Teesha Hadra and John Hambrick