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Thank you U.S. Marshals and moms and…

May 8th, 2004 · No Comments

The news this week has sickened my stomach. The other night I was listening to NPR while making spaghetti, and I had to stop, too distracted to continue cooking. I was upset, but this time in a good way: I had caught most of the segment Breaking the Color Barrier: U.S. Marshals Recall Life on the Front Lines of Desegregation.

Years ago in high school U.S. history class I remember studying the civil rights movement. Black and white pictures in the margins of the text book: lunch counters and buses, hoses and dogs, events I couldn’t imagine. As happened with the calendar and pacing of the class, the more recent events of the century ended up crammed into the last days of the year. We didn’t spend a lot of time studying them.

And as a sixteen year old Seattle girl, the events of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s seem far removed, so separated from me and my life. The segregated buses and bathrooms in the South were miles and decades distant. They seemed to be events that had happened long in the past, another place and time. But twenty years later, they mean much more to me now.

Listening to the radio program, I heard interviews with the U.S. Marshals who were responsible for escorting black students into white schools. The vitriole and hatred expressed against these little children was one of the first aspects of the program that hit me. Now that I’m older, I’ve made some choices in my life and I’ve felt a tiny taste of racism’s hate. It doesn’t seem as distant to me as it once did.

I’ve experienced more of human nature, and more of time. Now that I’m in my thirties, I see that there are as many years between me and high school as there were between my high school time and some of the civil rights events. It wasn’t that long ago after all.

And now that I’m older, I’m also a mother. I can’t imagine sending my children to be the ones to break the color barrier. Letting my little girls dressed in their “Sunday best” become obvious objects of hatred and risk their lives for integrated education. I can’t imagine being that brave.

The marshals were courageous too. These were white Southern men who were willing to go against their own culture, society and families, to risk rejection and injury, so that the Supreme Court decision could be implemented. I respect them and I’m grateful for what they did.

Maybe I’m not seeing all the angles of this aspect of history as I should. But I’m grateful for these people, these Marshals, and these mothers, fathers and their families, these men, women and children willing to do what was right, no matter the price. Integrated education has changed me and my life. I don’t want to think of all the ways life would be different if they had not done what they did. I wouldn’t be who I am if they hadn’t been who they were. Their bravery in their past makes me brave for what I need to do in my here and now today.

Tags: news