Today is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, a city that played a huge role in the civil rights movement. That was before I was born, but I remember. I can’t know what it was like to be there then, but I’ve walked through Rosa Parks’ bus, I’ve sat in the jail cell where Dr. King wrote his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” I’ve been to the 16th Street Baptist Church. Just knowing the history makes me cry.
And it’s not over. I went to high school in downtown Birmingham, and I remember Klansmen from around the country marching through our streets. I was afraid I’d throw up. Birmingham is still segregated by socioeconomic class, which often splits along racial lines. State politicians brag about having harsher immigration laws than Arizona, designed to force Hispanic immigrants to “self-deport.” There are Confederate battle flags and gun racks on so many white men’s pickups. An amendment to the state constitution removing racist language about separate schools resulted in a version of the constitution that says no one is guaranteed a public education. Homophobia is publicly acceptable. Women are marginalized by the demands of being a quiet, obedient, polite Southern lady. New laws have shut down the abortion clinic that survived Eric Robert Rudolph’s bombing.
Pay attention, Birmingham. Remember your history and let yourself feel the pain of it. And please, please stop repeating it.