Change Overcomes Hate: 1968

The Hard Start

“Like a tree that stands by the water, we shall not be moved!”

All I see is sun-kissed skin shining beneath the giant ball of fire. Fists stretched high in the air. Signs with words of desire and hope held up. Power and demand permeate throughout the streets and I . . . I am a part of this great movement. You see, when I was seven years old my Poppa took me to my first protest. I saw the vigor in his eyes, the strength in his march, and the hope in his heart. All we wished for was freedom from this oppression and an equal opportunity for all, but we were never given this right. Hate filled the air of Montgomery, Alabama, and my town was dying of starvation- starvation from peace. We marched and shouted. Two hours went by. Three hours went by. I felt kinda’ tired so I got on Poppa’s shoulders. Then, out of no where gun shots rang out! Everyone scattered! I fell and all I saw was Poppa quiet and prostrate on the ground. Four others laid similar to him. No movement. Just silence. I didn’t quite understand what happened.
“Poppa? Poppa?”
No answer. It happened so soon. So quick.
“Help! Help! I think my Poppa’s dead!”
The police came running and snatched me away from Poppa’s side. I felt like I was being ripped from my only source of comfort. They shoved me into a car with another girl, about my age who had a similar expression as mine.
“What—hap . . . happened—t . . . to you?”
“My mother is . . . go-gone.”
She burst into tears and shoved her small, lanky body into my arms. I didn’t even mind that this stranger was pressed against me. We were both hurt. We were both in pain. We were both in need of comfort. Eventually, I shared my loss with the little girl: and we exchanged names.
“I’m Diana Jordan. And you are . . . ?”
“Catherine Smith, but people call me Cat,” she said.
“Okay Cat. Where do you live? I live in Richmond.”
“Well isn’t that something. I do too! You go to Richmond Sunday Church?”
At that very moment, I knew we would be good friends.
“Yes. I thought I’d seen you somewhere before.”
We had too much in common. We experienced so much in those few seconds of pain and realization. From then on, everyday was spent together. I don’t mean basically everyday. I mean, like-every single day. We ate at each other’s house. We did homework together. We talked about the most dashing guy at church, Robert Kent III. We cried together. We protested against racism together. We grew so close together they called us the “DC Twins”.

~ ~ ~

Strike like Lightening

Now years had gone by. I was seventeen and she was sixteen. We went to every single rally and protest in Montgomery. However, I was getting into a lot of trouble. I would skip school and sneak out of the house to go to each rally. Cat and I felt like we needed to avenge our lost parents. We would stop at no cost to achieve the goal that our parents were fighting for: the freedom of our people. Momma used to always tell me the only way to get what you wanted in life, these days, was through persistence.
“Momma, just let me go.”
“No D!”
“I’m not a child anymore. I can’t let everything Poppa was fighting for fall to dust.”
“D, I said no and that’s final! Your smart mouth is gonna get you into trouble.”
That’s why I had to constantly disobey her and go to the rallies. I was being persistent just like she told me. But, she didn’t seem so pleased about it. She warned me that if I kept going to these grown rallies I would one day end up dead . . . just like Poppa. Yet, those words just pushed Cat and I even more. Knowing this is what they gave their lives up for, made us even more driven to continue this fight. In the words of our great inspiration, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., “ Lightning makes no sound until it strikes”(King). And we will continue to strike until we make a difference in this broken society.
Since Cat didn’t have her own television, she would come over to my house to watch the Reverend speak on our GE television . The most memorable moment was when we watched Dr. King’s “ I Have a Dream” speech together. He proclaimed with his thundering voice, “I have a dream that one day down in Alabama . . . little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” We both felt the goosebumps rise as each purposeful and potent word was spoken. The amount of strength and vigor that filled the phrases leaping off the tip of his tongue left us in awe.We knew that that was who we wanted to be. He was a remarkable figure for all civil rights activists and every justice seeker.

Meeting the Man

His might and strength created a brewing urge to continue the fight. He had a charisma that even those who didn’t know him- knew he was a leader. I wanted that. I had to see him.
“He’s going to lead a march in Memphis, Tennessee. I need to go.”
“You know I don’t like this type of talk, D. You know that.”
“Yes, but Momma, please. Do you realize how much he means to me?”
“Yes, I do and he’s a very peaceful and inspirational man, but other people who go to the marches can be very violent.”
“I just love you baby. I lost your father and I just can’t bare to lose you too. Can you imagine how I would feel?”
“I understand, Momma, but please let me show you how responsible I am, and let me fight for what I believe in.”
“Oh . . . alright.”
Those two words slipped out so painfully it sounded like those were her last two breaths of oxygen.
“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, Momma.”
She gave me a kiss and pulled out a dusty and beat up, leather suitcase.
“This was your father’s,” she said with glossy eyes.
“How long have you had this?”
“About 23 years. Poppa traveled with it, when the important marches were out of town.”
“I will take great care of it, Momma.”
“I know you will.”
I remember five tears falling from her glistening eyes. Left. Left. Left. Right. Left. They fell like a soldier’s feet in a military drill. I grabbed and cradled her as if she was a babe in distress, but without words. She bawled for what seemed like hours. I had never seen her like this before. I remember seeing her eyes swell and her soft visage turn pale. I was broken.
“I won’t go.”
“No. Go. You need to. This is an opportunity for you to be a part of an amazing movement. You stay safe y’hear?”
“Yes, Momma.”
~ ~ ~

Meaningful Man, Meaningful Message

It was Wednesday, April 3rd. Five days before the March. We wanted to get there early because we figured there would be fewer people on the roads and Cat and I wanted to look around Memphis. So, we woke up early, kissed our families, and got on the road. The whole way there we sang songs of freedom and hope.
“. . . let us march on till victory is won.”
Victory was going to be ours. We yearned for it. We believed in it. We felt it in our hearts.

Three minutes. Two. One. The Lorraine Motel. We had never stayed in a place outside of one another’s homes. Our own room? Our own bed? Our own opportunity? It was a dream.
We unpacked the car and stayed in the room most of the day. Later, we decided to walk around the property. Then suddenly Cat stopped.
“What’s the matter?”
She held out her finger and pointed at a man in a black suit who had a skin tone very close to my own.
“Is that…”
Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., was standing right in front of us. I was in complete shock. I couldn’t move. My expression mirroring my stunned companion- unable to bend or move.
“Good afternoon, Young Ladies.”
We both looked behind us. He couldn’t be talking to us. Measly ‘ole us. No way!
“Ladies? Are you ok?”
“Uh…ye-…yes we’re ok.”
How could we? We blanked out. The best thing ever happens and we blank out. He asked us our names and invited us in to speak with him. I never saw so much conviction one man since . . . since Poppa. I told him about all my efforts to keep his dream alive. I spoke of how I went to the extent of skipping school and disobeying Momma for the good.
“So you see, Dr. King, I am very de-.”
I was so confused. Did he not hear me? I was a huge follower of his work. I did anything necessary to fight for justice. Why did he cut me off?
“You are not only supposed to fight for your rights, but do what is right. You need to go to school and get your education. You need to listen to your mother and, perhaps, compromise. Talk to her about your motives and use your influence to do something good. Teach your friends to do well in their studies and stay in pursuit of justice.”
Those words changed my whole mindset. I thought going to far extents to obtain justice would be an amazing feat. I thought doing whatever was pro-Negro would be enough. I was completely off-target.
“Thank you Dr. King. I never took the time to see that I needed to be an example. I just looked for the fight, rather than the cause.”
“You’re welcome, Dear. Now go make a difference, the right way.”
“Yes, sir. Ummm . . . do you think I can get an autograph?”
“Of course,” he said with a chuckle.
“Thank you . . . for everything.”
I walked out with Cat following right behind me. We went straight to our room and allowed the words that graced us to marinade in our hearts and minds. We decided to stay in for the rest of the evening and get some rest.
“Goodnight, Cat.”
My mind was still wandering as I laid quietly in bed. Then all of a sudden . . . POW! Cat and I dropped to the floor and began to peer out the window.
All I saw was Dr. King quiet and prostrate on the ground.
No movement.
Just silence.
I’ve seen this before. Not again. It was like I was reliving the scene from when I was seven. I ran outside and saw his head cradled in Ralph Abernathy’s hands.
“King? King?”
No answer. So quick.
“Help! Help! Dr. King is dead!”
The ambulance came and rushed off the Reverend taking him to St. Joseph’s Hospital. Cat and I became worried and found it so hard to sleep that we ended up staying up until morning. At about eight A.M., we heard a knock on our door. We opened it and saw a petite lady wearing a black dress with a white apron atop. She had a small note and two trays with biscuits, eggs, and turkey bacon. We said thank you, closed the door, and began reading the little note:
Good morning girls, I hope you have a marvelous day. I want you to remember this as you go along with your day and life. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” (King). Obey your parents, be kind to everyone, go to school and church, and make a positive impact. See you on Monday during the march.
Your new friend,
That letter became my driving force for everything I did. When I was faced with anger and hate I would not respond and protest in hate, but in love. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. taught me so much that I could not see with my eyes glazed over. Thank you, MLK.

Works Cited
Johnson, James Weldon. Johnson, John Rosamond. “The Black National Anthem”, Black Past, n.d. Web. 6 February 2018.
King, Jr., Martin Luther. “Martin Luther King, Jr. Quotes”, Brainy Quotes, n.d. Web. 6 February 2018.
America’s Best History. “Timeline- the 1960’s.”, America’s Best
History, 2018, Web. 6 February 2018.
Bobek, Milan, editor. Decades of the 20th Century/ . ser. 1960s, Eldorado Ink, 2005. Print.
Harding, Vincent, et al. We Changed the World. Oxford University Press, Inc., 1997.
Stanford University. “Southern Christian Leadership Conference.” Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), encyclopedia/enc_southern_christian_leadership_conference_sclc/index.html. n.d. Web. 6 February 2018.