On the other hand, after a demonstration of sign-waving by a cadre of five guys in sheets, people in Reidsville, NC, received invitations to a rally. “Free Admition (sic)-White People Only. No alcohol, drugs, fighting, glass bottles or weapons. Free on site camping-all major motels in area. Souvenirs. Vendors. Food and beverages for Sale. Cross lighting at dusk-a white unity event. Live country band. Security provided by LWK.” Souvenirs? Like, a hood with your name embroidered on it?
Over the last couple of decades, the KKK became more and more a joke. While they used to hold tremendous power in the South and the Midwest (Really; look it up.), they became an anachronism that most people scorned. At the moment, the NBPP and the KKK may be equals in number and lunacy. I do wonder, though, whether the refusal of the current Justice Department to prosecute the Panthers for little things like voter intimidation might inspire more “white rage.” We had a dozen or so armed-compound, ready-for-the-race-war loons arrested recently near Orlando. Law enforcement has done pretty well at taking out the white crackpots. Not so well on the black crackpots. Oh, Mr. Holder, doesn’t equality mean, you know, holding everyone to the same standard? Just a thought.
But, meanwhile, out here in everyday life, where people are earning a living, keeping their brains in gear, and not searing their souls to ashes, life is a whole lot better in the race department than it was when I was a kid. A couple weeks ago, I was on my way into an Olive Garden for lunch with the church ladies. On his way out was a tall black man dressed sharply in dark trousers, a vest, white dress shirt and dark tie. He held by the hand a little boy dressed exactly the same. The sight stopped me in my tracks. I put my hand on my chest like the old-fashioned old lady I somehow became without noticing, and I uttered something like “This is so cute, I can hardly stand it.” The proud dad smiled.
So what’s the big deal? In my younger days, that charming man and his charming son would not have been allowed into Olive Garden. If they could buy food there, it would be through the “colored window.” As a girl, I watched TV news reports of the lunch counter sit-ins. Brave, principled, self-controlled young black people walked into drugstores and sat down at the soda fountain/lunch counter. (Is there such a thing any more?) White clerks quickly set up “lunch counter closed” signs. Sometimes, white yahoos screamed at the sitters from behind, squeezed ketchup onto their heads and dropped cigarette ashes into their hair. Nevertheless, they kept the faith, kept calm and kept coming back. And guess what: they won. Jim Crow laws are gone.
Another restaurant scene left me happy, relieved and hopeful. In walked two women, one black, one white, together. They were dressed like office workers. After they sat down, the waitress came to take their orders. Pardon my stereotyping, but she looked the part of a redneck—bleached blonde pony tail pulled tight, the face rather pinched looking. A generation ago, women like her screamed at school buses. On this day, she took a black woman’s order without a ripple and brought her the food she asked for. To this one-time observer of “white” and “colored” water fountains, the scene was momentous, precisely because it had become ordinary. The Klan couldn’t prevent it, and the Panthers can’t take any credit for it. Thank Martin Luther King, Jr., and all sorts of people of good will who listened when called to uphold the principles of our founding. And thank the God who endows all with inalienable rights. That is the way.