Sunday, June 18, 2006
Happy Father's Day, Dad!
My Dad and stepmom were here last weekend, which is a pretty groovy Father's Day gift to me. :) They live in Oregon, and so we don't see them as much as we would like to. My dad is a pretty great guy, whom unfortunately I did not get to know until I was an adult. One day maybe I'll tell that story, but not today.
Anyway, when my dad was here, I asked him about his time in the 60s, about his involvement in the Civil Rights marches, etc. I was right on some things, wrong on others. I thought he had heard Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. He did. I thought he was involved in the voter registration drives in the south. He wasn't. Here's the story:
By 1963, my dad had gotten pretty involved with a group of progressives whose main agenda was peace. I think he said he met some of them at a concert he was at in Rhode Island, and they were located in Connecticut. So, he went to Connecticut. Then he found out that they were all going to the March On Washington, so he decided to go as well. Off they went, and that's when he heard MLK give his famous speech. He said they were pretty far away from MLK, and didn't really catch on that something really important was being said until about 1/2 way through, because there had been people making speeches all day, etc. So, my dad was very moved by the speech, and he and some of the others in his group decided to join in with a group (maybe the War Resistors League?) who was marching from Quebec to Guantanimo. So off they went, marching maybe 20 miles a day, staying in peoples homes, talking to folks about peace, and civil rights, etc. He said that the white people were nice to them until they realized what they were up to, and then they were mostly confused and a bit cold. The black people were pretty much nice to all of them, white and black. When they got to Macon, they were arrested for fraternizing with black folks, and got to spend some time in jail. People pretty much had decided that they were communists and "N Lovers". While in jail, the men and black women were expected to work while in jail (interestingly enough, not the white women. Chivalry, perhaps? Afraid of what that would do to the image of the town?), and this group refused, because they said that they had committed no crime, and thus would not work. So they got put in a different area, separate from the other prisoners. That's where they were when JFK was shot and killed, and they found out about it from some of the black women who came in from working and had heard about it. Then the sheriff found out that some people were forming a mob, and were going to come over to the jail and get the "commies" out, and lynch them for their involvement in the civil rights movement. Well, the sheriff didn't want that happening in his town, so he took them all out of jail and told them to get the hell out of town, which they promptly did. From there, they went to Atlanta, which was where they got to actually meet MLK in person. He took groups of 10 people, and they got to ask him a few questions, etc. He gave my dad a book, and he autographed it. Unfortunately, my dad doesn't have the book any more...it was stolen from him. From there, he went back up North, as the rest of the marchers who had not been arrested had moved on my then.
My dad was very involved in this group of peaceniks, and he decided to send in his draft card as a protest. There wasn't a lot of US involvement in the war at that point, so it was more of a symbolic gesture than it would be later on. He has a felony on his record because of his refusal to go to Vietnam, and his refusal to call himself a Conscientious Objector (he didn't think it was right to say "don't send me", but be willing that other people should go). He became involved in progressive newspapers in Portland, OR. But all of that's another part of his story...today, I'm just trying to get down the part about his trip down South.
I've told this tale very poorly...I asked my dad to write it all down, so his grandkids could have an idea of his involvement in that era of history. He said he had thought of writing a book about it, but there were so many out there already, he didn't think it would sell...but for family, he thought that was a great idea. I hope he does. I want Maya to be able to tell her kids about it, and get the details and the telling of it closer to the truth and the drama than I have done here.
What I gain mostly from this story is that my father is, and was, a man of ideals. He was willing to work for those ideals, willing to go to jail for them, willing to risk great things for them. I'm very proud of that, very proud of him. Happy Father's Day, Dad, and to all of the Fathers out there, who live their ideals.