My childhood rage against “The Man”

So much about race and racism lately. I’m old enough to remember water fountains marked “COLORED.”

Almost anyone who knows me won’t be surprised to know that I always drank out of the “wrong” nozzle. Mommy knew me, but she was always embarrassed to see me at the “colored” water fountain. She said that I was inviting disease. I told her we ought to treated “the coloreds” better so they don’t have disease. Mommy wasn’t impressed, but she was used to my behavior.

The manager at Monnigs Department Store in Fort Worth wasn’t up-to-speed on my shenanigans and my quiet Drink In demonstrations. He ordered both me and mother out of his store.

Years later, in high school, my sweetheart was a kid named Tony. The fact he was black was a bigger deal than the fact we were both gay. Gay is better than black in Texas, I guess.

Tony’s mom accepted me. Up to a point. She was certainly more accepting and kind than my own mother. Tony and I were almost inseparable my senior year in high school. He was gorgeous and funny, and his kiss sent me flying somewhere.

Tony’s mom got us into her car one Saturday morning and headed East. She was quiet with eyes that could eat through solid steel. Stoic. Severe, maybe.

The point is that when she said we ought to get in the car, there’d be no questions and no delay. She didn’t tell us like she was a drill sargeant, but we knew we needed to be in the car. Period. End of discussion.

Where? I didn’t know

Tony, Tony’s mom, and I drove and drove and drove. They wouldn’t tell me where, except that it was some kind of group protest. I didn’t really have anything to protest other than the Vietnam war.

We finally got to a scene like you see on the newsreels: angry white uniformed guys on horses. This wasn’t a newsreel. Not for me. That day, I was there. And I was on the dangerous side of the stand-off.

There were deputies with guns and scary dogs with teeth that were at least a foot or two long. One of the scary guys ordered me to get away from Tony. It wasn’t going to happen, and I didn’t feel like explaining why. I was more terrified than I had ever been.

Then the speaker took the microphone. My heart melted as Martin Luther King, Jr, spoke. He called for resistance to evil. He called for peace. Love those who persecute.

I still get a cold chill when I think of that day. Dr. King’s words were awesome, but I was so scared of those guys in uniforms. I was just a kid, one of the few white guys in the audience so I suppose that I stood out a little. Tony held me tight, sensing how afraid I was. He acted like it was an everyday thing for him. The sad part is that it probably was an everyday thing.

I saw the dogs and guns, and I saw this man calmly call for peace. I’ve never been the same.

Let this affirmation be our ringing cry. It will give us the courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair. When our nights become darker than a thousand midnights/ Let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.

Let us realize that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Let us realize that William Cullen Bryant is right: “Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again.” Let us go out realizing that the Bible is right: “Be not deceived. God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” This is our hope for the future, and with this faith we will be able to sing in some not too distant tomorrow, with a cosmic past tense, “We have overcome! We have overcome! Deep in my heart, I did believe we would overcome.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.