Some thoughts about the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King. He
was born in 1929, making him four years my elder. That places me at an age that recalls the magnificent
crusade led by King to end government sponsored racial segregation and its
evils, and a tiny bit of personal experience.
In 1951 when I was a one-stripe eighteen-year-old airman
stationed at Williams AFB in Arizona (I played in the base band), my two best
buddies were a Filipino trumpet player and a black guy who played French horn
(“peck horn”). We tried to enter a café together in uniform in nearby Chandler.
“Get out,” shouted the proprietor, “We don’t serve niggers and don’t serve nigger
lovers.” So much for lunch. And Arizona was a so-called “non-segregated” state.
When King led the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, I had
advanced to age 22, and was two years out of Air Force flying school flying the
F94C. Martin Luther King’s actions in Montgomery inspired me to join the NAACP
(not radical like today) when I was stationed at Langley AFB in the southern
city of Hampton, Virginia.
In 1962, I was a captain attending radar controller school
at Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi, and living off base. The course was
tough, so some of us organized an evening study group that included a fellow student
who happened to be a negro captain (“negro” was the respectful term then – not
“black” or “Afro-American”). The only way we could get the captain to and from
our home with safely, and without getting arrested, was to keep him out of
sight in the back seat of our car. Amazing.
I myself almost got arrested one Sunday morning after church
in Gulfport. Mississippi when I sat on a bus bench labeled “colored” (I didn’t
see the sign). When the bus came, the bus driver told me I would have to move
to the “white” bench before he would pick me up. I told him snarkily that I was
ON the white bench (it being painted white). At this point, he threatened to call the cops. I left. He
left. And I found another way back to Biloxi.
In1963, the year of Kings iconic “I have a Dream” oratory from
the Lincoln Memorial in DC I was 30. I listened to him live on the radio. It’s
the most magnificent speech I’ve ever heard. Period.
When King was assassinated In 1968 in Memphis, I was
thirty-five years old and attending the Air University Education with Industry
Program at the Boeing Company in Seattle. We were devastated.
Martin Luther King was an imperfect man (as are we all) who
did marvelous things for the soul of our nation. We’ve come a long, long ways. But
where are the great leaders for equality and fairness today? With some of the
stuff that’s going on, Martin Luther King must be turning over in his grave.