January 18, 2021, beyond being Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, was the eight-year anniversary of my father’s untimely passing.  Both the holiday and the anniversary snuck up on me this year. My wife, daughter and I had spent the past few days visiting family who had recently moved to rural Mississippi and it wasn’t until Monday, as I packed the car for the long drive home, that I realized the confluence of dates.  Later, as we traveled a pine-shaded highway en route to our Texas home, I began to ponder the significance.

My father was born in 1950.

You see, my father was born in 1950 and attended a segregated school in a mostly segregated town in rural Oklahoma.  Dad was an athlete, and the only black people he knew were those he competed against in sports.  While it might be easy to assume that this upbringing might lead my father to have at least some racist tendencies, that wasn’t the case.  Maybe he learned from his father, a businessman who proclaimed that, “Everybody’s money is green.”  Maybe he learned from his Christian faith, which taught him that we are all God’s children.  Maybe it was a little of both. 

My daughter was born in 2017 and is black. 

More specifically I’d say that she’s a milk chocolate, with subtle yellow undertones which catch the light and melt the heart, but I may be a bit biased.  Naomi joined our family on her 21st day on Earth and will soon turn four.  We can’t imagine our lives without her.  We’re often asked what it’s like – what negativity or hate we’ve had to endure as a multi-racial family.  The answer is…practically none.  We have experienced overwhelming support from family, friends, church and community.

On this day, though, we weren’t in our community. 

We were in Mississippi.  Mississippi, known during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s as a hotbed of lynching’s and church burnings.  Mississippi, of which Dr. King said in his most famous speech, “I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.”  In the same speech Dr. King said, “We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities.” 

Pic of Walker's Drive In Sign from Jackson, Mississippi

As we travelled Mississippi’s highways, we stopped where we wanted.

We stopped at any gas station, any restaurant – without the slightest fear of violence.  I have no doubt we could have gained safe lodging at any hotel.  Naomi, as usual, charmed every eye that befell her.  No one whispered.  No one pointed.  No one stared.  What would have been an audacious and perilous journey in Dr. King’s day was a mundane act in mine.  What a seismic shift in race relations, from my father’s experience, to mine, to my daughter’s.  I wish that Dr. King could have been there to see it.  I wish my father could have been there, too, though for different reasons. 

One more quote from Dr. King:

“Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi.  From every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

Yes, indeed.  And let it ring through Central Texas, through rural Oklahoma, through the chambers of the Capitol, throughout the world and in every human heart.  Let freedom ring.

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