Friday evening, Ted, Maya and I were invited to dinner with our friends, Pat and Beatrice, and their friend, Unita Blackwell. If any of my 5 daily readers are familiar with the civil rights movement of the 1960s, specifically the voters rights movement in the south, you may have heard of Mrs. Blackwell. I am not terribly familiar with that movement, though I admire the hell out of it, and I see a strong correlation between the struggles of the black people in the south, and their success, and the struggles of women and gays, as well as the anti-war movement. So to meet a pioneer in this movement is indeed a special treat.
Mrs. Blackwell has a new book out, detailing her rise from a sharecropper on a plantation in the Mississippi Delta, through the voter rights movement, to being the first female black mayor in the State of Mississippi. She traveled to China over 20 times working to normalize relations, and has received a Macarthur genius grant. In 1979, she participated in President Jimmy Carter's Energy Summit at Camp David. She later received a bachelors degree from Harvard, and her master's degree in regional planning from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Her accomplishments are many and great.
My dad was involved in both the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement of the 1960s. I bought him Mrs. Blackwell's book for his birthday a few weeks ago, and then borrowed it from him while we were in Oregon. I borrowed it so that I could read it, but also so that Ted could read it, because he wanted to interview her for his public relations radio program. I brought the book with us on Friday, so Mrs. Blackwell could sign it for my dad. :)
Overall, we had a lovely evening. Mrs. Blackwell told us stories from the 50s and 60s, and what it meant to be a black person in the South back then. How her grandfather was murdered in the cotton field for merely stating that he was innocent of something which he had been unjustly accused of, but he dared to talk back to a white man. How the white townspeople of her small community banded together to intimidate and harass the black townspeople, and thus keep them from registering to vote. How, with the help of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, she became involved in the movement to register black voters, and thus began her career in politics. Years later, she became the mayor of her small town (as she put it, "We'd be lucky if there are 500 people there"), and worked to incorporate the town and bring basic services like running water to the people there.
The most amazing thing, to me, was how open she is, how un-cynical, not bitter in the least. I don't know if I would have that grace. She appears to look things head on and to see them clearly, to see both the evil and the good in the world, and to retain her ability to keep the two distinctly separate. She is an amazing woman, one who has lived through an amazing period in human history - a time of pain and terror, and a time when Americans were learning the power of non-violent resistance. It was amazing to speak to her, and to hear how down to earth and genuinely friendly she is. We had a wonderful time talking to her.
And, by the way, the other company wasn't shabby either. We always enjoy seeing Pat and Beatrice, and it doesn't hurt that they are both generous and wonderful cooks. The food was delicious (pasta with homemade tomato sauce, wine, sliced tomatoes with basil, wine, bread, more wine, and homemade chocolate mousse.) Thanks Pat and Beatrice, for inviting us to your home, and including us in this wonderful evening. You ROCK!