A Journey That Never Seems To End
At my point in life, I am connecting the dots as Steve Jobs mentioned in his commencement address to Stanford in 2005.
While at 72, I am able to connect and interconnect a myriad of dots. I can see life very clearly...looking back upon it.
Rosa Parks' arrest in Montgomery, AL in 1955 began the modern civil right movement. It was not until the early 60s did whites get involved. However, a decade after Rosa Parks' arrest, President Johnson got his two major civil rights bills enacted, and they became the law of the land. While we know that we would not change the hearts of all Americans, we would change the federal laws.
One summer in the early 60s while I was in college, I helped lead a work camp of a dozen high school volunteers from the Bower Hill Community Church, which was a Presbyterian Church outside Pittsburgh, PA. We went for a couple weeks to Ozone, TN. That experience provided a firsthand learning for all of us who were white Northerners what segregation was like in the South.
Late one evening, I was driving a rented station wagon with Pennsylvania license plates through the hills outside of Ozone, TN. It was dark as I was driving back to the church where we stayed while working in Ozone. As I drove on this barren stretch of a country road, I noticed a car behind me...just following me. It did not attempt to pass; it just followed me. It did not take me long to be concerned for my station wagon filled with high school students and myself. I would slow down or speed up a bit and the car behind would do the same.
For what seemed like an hour, I watched the road ahead of me as I watched the car behind me. I did not accelerated too quickly for obvious reasons. I had a handful of kids in the station wagon and did not know the roads. More importantly, I feared that the person was a Klan member. Nonetheless, after a seeming eternity of worrying and driving, I reached the destination without any harm coming to my passengers or myself.
I told someone about my concern about being followed. However, having arrived safely, I figured it was some old guy that had been out drinking. The person to whom I was talking was a local. He said it was the Klan and that the Klan member was warning me to get out of the area. That was my first personal contact with racism.
It has been over 50-years since driving the hills outside of Ozone, TN. Several weeks ago, I was at a seminar in St. Louis, MO. I was glad to be at St. Louis since the company that I worked for during the summers while in graduate school fabricated the steel that went into the Gateway Arch. I wanted to see again that arch, which we at Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel created.
However, I also wanted to see Ferguson, which was far more important. Michael Brown was shot 6-times and killed by Officer Darren Wilson. The killing took place on August 9, 2014. I mentioned to the seminar group whether anyone would like to go with me to Ferguson and visit the place at Canfield Green apartment complex where the shooting occurred. Out of 50 or more participants at the seminar, no one said anything about wanting to go. I was startled...no one. Therefore, in my car, I drove to Canfield Green. In hindsight, I am glad that I was the only one that went to where Michael Brown was killed.
No KKK person followed my car to Canfield Green. I pulled into a parking lot of the complex and walked over to the place of the shooting, and there I stood all alone and looked. This is what I saw as I thought.
As I walked around the two small memorials, I thought about three months ago in Ferguson and fifty years ago outside of Ozone. There I was having begun my journey in Ozone and coming full circle to Ferguson a half century later. In the past five decades, how much had we learned? How much better off are we whether black or white? We still have white cops shooting black guys. When will we ever learn?
There I stood...thinking. I tried to picture the person and feelings that he or she had when that person left a memento to remember Michael Brown. Here was an unarmed kid who was shot six times and killed. What did his parents think? What did all the other grieving people ponder? What hopes and fears swirled in the memento-givers' minds? There I was three months almost to the day, and my head was swirling.
Then I saw the St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap. Someone wrote these words written by Einstein many decades ago, "Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding."
If anyone reads this essay and knows who wrote Einstein's message on this cap, I would love to return to Ferguson and talk with that person. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is sad to think that we are so stupid that it takes a genius to tell us how to get along with each other. Apparently, we are that stupid. In the half century from Ozone to Ferguson, we have not done much to increase our collective IQs as human beings in America.
Maybe a video will help us to understand that it will be a far better world if we see even a small beam of light in the darkness in which we walk.
Visit the On Seeing the Light page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Connecting the Dots page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Darkest Before Dawn page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Stupid is As Stupid Does page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Best and Worst of Times page to read more about this topic.