There’s a part of my story that very few people know.
In early April, 1963, I was a twelve year old boy living in a wealthy, all-white, bedroom community, about an hour’s drive outside New York City, just inside the Connecticut border.
For about eight months of my first forty years, I lived in New England. My father and his brother, a pilot for the now-defunct Eastern Airlines, made a decision to go into business together. So we sold most everything we had, loaded a few belongings into the family Dodge pickup truck, left San Diego, and “took our talents to Ridgefield, Connecticut.”
We lived with my aunt and uncle on their spacious spread in a forested neighborhood, populated by pilots, doctors, and lawyers who commuted to The City for their jobs. My neighbors were white, my friends were white, my school was white, my entire Little League was white. And mostly wealthy.
It was a far cry from the fully integrated community, south of San Diego, I had moved from. But I was twelve…and I adapted to the segregated lifestyle. As a family, though, we didn’t adapt too well to the frigid cold of the northeastern winter, nor the “coldness” of the New England suburban personality. We moved home to SoCal at the conclusion of my seventh-grade school year. We couldn’t even complete one full year!
In 1963, I was completely insulated from what was going on in the world at large. I was especially unaware of the drama of our nation’s civil rights movement that was unfolding on the national (and international) stage. I’m sure my parents did, but it was immaterial to our lives.
My little twelve year old world revolved mostly around sports. Black athletes were just black athletes to me. I admired their performance, but I was clueless to their journey. I had heard of Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson, but I knew nothing of their significance. My father pointed out the epic battles of Wilt Chamberlin and Bill Russell, but I wasn’t much of a basketball fan, so I didn’t pay much attention. The cultural backdrop of the lives of Willie Mays, Althea Gibson, and Jim Brown were anecdotal, at best.
From history books and the early days of television, I knew of Sammie Davis Jr. and Booker T. Washington and Louis Armstrong, but for an insulated twelve year old, they were more caricatures than real people. And I knew nothing of Dr. Martin Luther King.
But that has all changed. And so have I.
There is much written and said and memorialized today about the life of MLK. My words can do no justice to the impact of this man’s life on the world. I hope you will spend at least a few minutes today reading or watching some of the tributes. Your life will be richer. My life as a follower of Christ and a minister of the Gospel has been both inspired and shaped by his words and actions.
If you can make the time to read his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, your life will be richer, your understanding of history deepened, your values challenged, and hopefully, your compassion for the oppressed inspired.
May his call for action in April of 1963 be as clear and bold today, as it was then.
You can read it here: Letter from Birmingham Jail