I can’t let this day go by without paying tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was assassinated on this day fifty years ago. As a little black girl living in the segregated south, Jim Crow, the flawed idea of separate but equal, was alive and well. “Colored Only” water fountains and restrooms, and restaurants that would not serve “Negroes” were commonplace. I attended segregated schools and walked past a large brick elementary school for whites to our little two-room school house for six grades. Later I would walk all the way across town to the high school for Black children as yellow school buses filled with white children drove past with the kids sometimes shouting the N-word from the windows.
As a very young girl I had little real understanding about what Martin Luther King was doing, but I knew who he was. After I moved to California as a teenager, I paid more attention and understood the necessity and the importance of the civil rights movement he led and brought to international attention.
The day that he was killed, I remember getting out of school early and the Black kids spilling into Downtown Berkeley. An elderly white woman was coming down the side steps of a department store as we approached. When she saw us she stumbled back up the steps in fear. I guess she had heard the news. But we had no ill intent toward her. We were caught up in our shock and grief, and stunned by the magnitude of our loss. Our class would ultimately go on to adopt the graduation theme “I Have A Dream”. I submitted my proposed speech, and although I wasn’t selected as one of the three speakers, I was chosen as the alternate in case someone couldn’t do it. They all did, of course. Nevertheless, my speech crystallized for me the importance of Dr. King to my life and to the life of this nation - and the world.
Now many years later, I'm doing my part to continue the fight for equity and fairness and inclusion. It has been central to my profession for almost three decades. Even though I love what I do, all these years later it could be disheartening that we have not made more progress. I therefore take comfort in these words from Dr. King: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”.
Thank you, Dr. King, for your lasting legacy. May it continue to inspire and move generations to come.