Monday, January 21, 2008

Remembering the King family

It was my honor to serve part of the King family in my early days as a cafeteria manager in training. The location has been closed for years, but the old Piccadilly Cafeteria at Cumberland Mall in Atlanta was where I worked as trainee and associate for the better part of twelve years before being assigned my own unit.

Occasionally on Sunday afternoons a party of four or five, sometimes as many as seven or eight, would come for lunch which included M.L. King, Sr., whom everyone called Daddy King, and Mrs. Coretta King. Their visit was always a low-key event. By then -- this would have been in the years between 1976 and 1980 -- the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was over a decade past, public racism was no longer acceptable, Daddy King's wife and Mrs. King's husband had both been killed and all the family seemed to want was a quiet place to enjoy a Sunday meal together.

The first time they came Daddy King sent for the manager on duty and wanted me to know that when they left they would be paying by check and he didn't expect to have any trouble. He made it clear that he wanted to pay the bill and leave quietly just like any other party, with no special attention. Of course a quiet word to the cashier ahead of time was all that was needed.

I resisted the temptation to make conversation, as much as I would have liked to do so, because I had the feeling that the best service I could provide was seating them quietly where they would be least likely to attract attention and allowing them to enjoy their meal without interruption. I know my staff was proud to have them as customers and after a few visits they got used to the idea and didn't make a big deal out of it.

At that time we were living in downtown Atlanta. Our neighborhood, Virginia-Highland, was racially balanced enough that the local elementary school was pretty well integrated. It was situated between two other neighborhoods that were not integrated. At that time the Atlanta Public Schools were busing students to balance the racial composition of the schools, so an elementary school in Bedford-Pine, which was nearly all black, was paired with another school in Morningside which was white. The same buses that took white first-, second- and third-graders from Morningside Elementary to C.W. Hill Elementary in the black neighborhood returned with black fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders to integrate Morningside Elementary.

My wife and I noticed that our youngest daughter was not learning to read in the first grade. By the first of second grade we heard that C.W. Hill had a good reputation and might be a better place for her to attend school. Looking into it, we learned that since we were white and that school was majority black (51%) we were eligible to transfer our child to that school in accordance with the "M to M program" (Minority to Majority). I suppose had we been black she would not have been allowed to go there, but since we were white, it was approved. Sure enough, when she started she was tested and paired with a "team-teacher" and before the second grade was half over she was reading out loud and we were well pleased. (We didn't expect that when she got to Morningside as a fourth-grader we would run into an old-fashioned teacher who didn't believe in learning disabilities and we had to put her in a private school instead...but that is another story.)

While at C.W. Hill our child was invited to a birthday party of a classmate who was a nephew of the late Dr. King, but again we didn't make a big deal of it aside from telling her how very special that was. Children often accept one another at face value much better than their parents. We tried to rear our children to select their friends according to how they live rather than who they are. They are grown now and I think it worked.

This year's contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama underscores the racial divide that remains nearly three decades later. I am amazed at the man's equanimity and grace as he walks a narrow line to win support from both white and black constituencies. I am equally impressed with the passive-aggressive politics by which Hillary Clinton and her organization are able to exploit the race card to her clear advantage.

My remembrance and this post were inspired by an excellent essay I came across in this morning's reading by David Darlington at Josh Clayborn's blog, In the Agora.

Racial mistrust is still very real in this country, even if the days of widespread violence are mostly in the past, and because of that mistrust the Clintons may have stumbled on a way to marginalize and defeat the first African American candidate with a serious, realistic chance at the White House. I do hope that Barack Obama finds a way to keep his cross-racial appeal and win the Democratic nomination though -- not just because it would mean the defeat of the Clinton machine, and not just because of the historical triumph of the first nomination of an African American by a major party, but also because Hillary Clinton is just plain wrong about Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King Jr. Politicians who try to impose their will on a republic from the top down without the public being prepared for it get kicked out of office, and rightly so. Men (and women) like MLK Jr are essential to seed the public mind with ideas of change and what a new, improved society can look like. The pols that people like the Clintons love so much can only reap what the visionaries have sown.

As they say, read the whole thing. And take a look at his link to his 2007 essay as well.

On this day of remembrance of Dr. King I have collected a few old posts an put them together at this one spot.

The Speech

Two personal remembrances: King and Gandhi

The Clarkston International Bible Church

Otis Redding at Monterey, 1967

If there is a theme here it is the meaning of what it means to love. What does that mean and how do we keep on doing it, even when it hurts? Along that line, if you are not already exhaused from reading check out Hate and it's children , an exploration of the difference between what I call personal hate and partisan hate. I think this look at the dark underside of love may have meaning today.

1 comment:

vietnamcatfish said...

I liked the Otis Redding video. Dare I say it, very soulful. I remember "Dock of the Bay" May '68 and me, pimply and a mouth full of braces, going to the Jr. Sr. Prom. My fun was short-lived, as I contacted the Hong Kong flu whilst sweating profusely under my cumberbun and sitting on the air conditioner at the downtown Atlanta restaurant a'waiting our name to be called.

On a dissililar vein, I went to the Piggly Wiggly the other day and ordered 8 oz.s of turkey breast. ( deli )

The attendant quickly cut two thin slices and slung them on the scale.

I said "are you kidding?"

It took me a minute to figure out she thought I said "a" oz. and was being a smart-ass. As if it were beneath her to fulfill such a stupid request. "A oz. What nerve of these customers," she must have thought.

I clarified "8 ozs."

And she got her butt in gear.

Next time I'll say half a pound.