Do you know what I’ve discovered? If I spent every day visiting all the places that I couldn’t enter before the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (I was born in 1948), except through the back door as a maid or a slave, I’d probably never die—at least not anytime soon. That is why I engage in a project surrounding Martin Luther King Holiday weekend that brings me great joy.
Not only do I sashay my black ass (dripping with bling) through the front door of a former slave-owning or white’s only establishment at least once a year, but I stay in the best room they have to offer, order room service for breakfast, and get an 80-minute massage if they offer it. Since MLK weekend coincides with my husband’s (WW—“White and Wonderful”) birthday, I walk through the front door of those former plantations with my arm wrapped around my white husband’s arm, a big smile on my face, and give a silent middle finger to the racists ghosts who surely must roam the halls of said establishments. Because there is no way any god worth his salt would ever allow those unrepentant slave owners entrance into Heaven (are you hearing me Thomas Jefferson?), I am convinced their Hell must be tailor-made to watch an African-American making herself at home with sheer abandonment in their “whites only” environment.
I call this bitch slap to the haunted the FYRS-LWITBR Project, which stands for “FUCK YOU RACIST SPECTERS—LIVING WELL IS THE BEST REVENGE!” My “in your face” rebel cry has nothing to do with the current owners (I do not visit the sins of their ancestors upon them so long as they treat me with dignity and respect), but I do take on the racist ghosts of their lineage.
Oak Alley Plantation on the Mississippi River in Louisiana |Trip Advisor Image
In the interest of full disclosure, my children think I’m crazy. That’s because I’ve raised them to be color blind, and to my knowledge they have never suffered at the hands of racists, which makes me very happy. Their friends are color blind (black, white, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Straight, Gay), as well, and have formed little urban families around each other to unite against the hardships and vagaries of life. I am very proud of them, and I consider them all “my children.”
But my children and their friends have not seen what I’ve seen or experienced the hatred I’ve embodied. They have never heard of The Negro Motorist Green Book which was in full swing the year I was born and lasted until after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and they have never had to plan their travel around such a book just to keep from having their asses kicked (or killed) by men in white robes and pointy hats carrying burning crosses.
The Green Book was started by Victor Hugo Green (a Harlem mail carrier) in the 1930s and it would eventually cover lodging, eateries, and stores in every state in the USA as well as Bermuda, Mexico, and Canada that would do business with Negroes. If there were no hotels that would cater to African-Americans (often the case), the book would list “tourist homes” that would rent the traveler a room or two for their journey. The Green Book spoke volumes by “omission,” as the writer Justin Hyde has noted. In 1949, no restaurant was listed in Alabama that would serve black people. Justin Hyde in his article on The Green Book in Jalopnik underscored the fact that “Black motorists in those eras frequently kept extra fuel, food and portable toilets on hand to avoid stopping in unfriendly locations. Even outside the South, roadside motels and diners often wouldn’t serve black customers.” In 1963 (one year before The Green Book was taken out of circulation), I was kicked out of a New Jersey hotel in the middle of the night along with a family (a lawyer and school teacher and their two young children) that I was the babysitter for, and we were forced to drive through the night to our approved “Negro cabin” in Maine.
Image from Wikipedia
INTRODUCTION PAGE OF THE NEGRO TOURIST GUIDE: “There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States. It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication for then we can go wherever we please, and without embarrassment. But until that time comes we shall continue to publish this information for your convenience each year.”
The fact that President Obama’s 2nd inauguration (talk about “living well is the best revenge!”) fell on the same day as the MLK holiday weekend and coincided with my husband’s b-day gave me the perfect excuse to engage in my “project” (not at the plantation above used only as an example, but at another glorious location in the South and situated on the Gulf of Mexico).
President Obama and Martin Luther King |image from thedvrfiles.com
As I stretched out on the beautiful “sugar sand” of a site where there once stood a private mansion that I could have only entered the back door of to make the beds and empty the slop pans, I meditated for hours on how far we had come as a Nation since the publication of The Green Book. I watched the inauguration of our magnificent 44th president from my waterfront suite as I lifted a glass of champagne to the triumph of a man that we are lucky to have as a leader. As I contemplated my own American journey, I joined President Obama in spirit to pray for the further emancipation of our Hispanic brothers and sisters, our Gay and Lesbian brothers and sisters, and the disenfranchised jobless families in our midst who need a helping hand.
Archival image from pattyhume.com
I am discovering, however, that even though we are in more “tolerant times,” one must be ever vigilant against the spirit of bigotry—especially amongst the religious—or we will be doomed to repeat our history. Martin Luther King often preached about the complacency of white Christians toward the suffering of those who did not fit their cultural narrow-minded viewpoint (specifically the Southern Baptists). I have read many of the multitudinous sermons preached by well-intentioned pastors in favor of slavery in the 1800s and then again against desegregation in the 60s and their arrogance and cold-heartedness grip my heart with horror. Where would we be as a country if righteousness had not won the day?
Today it boggles my mind that Christians who say they love Jesus are part of the Tea Party, but they don’t speak out against the racism that is so visible on their websites and from the mouths of their leaders. I know that not all Tea Party members are racist but their silence is killing me. The language of the Tea Partier is slightly different from the overt racist (normally doesn’t include the “n” word), but it is deceiving to the perpetrator because they see themselves as righteous: “I respect the office of the presidency but I don’t respect this president because he is a Socialist, a Muslim, a spawn of Satan or Hitler (I’m searching for his hidden horns and drawing on his Hitler mustache even as we speak)” or “I don’t have a racist bone in my body, I just worship Sarah Palin, Fox News, and the Drudge Report who do”—said with such vehemence and so many times that it prompts the person of color to scream to the heavens: “me thinks thou doth protest too much, Tea-bagger!”
Racist Tea Party Cartoon|image from politiskink.com
DEAR TEA PARTY:
“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than
sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Even though we’ve come a long way, whenever I do a Google search with our President’s name, I almost vomit from the visceral racial hatred and disrespect that lashes out at me from the Internet because it seems that some of us are playing by a different set of rules, requiring others of us to reinstate “The Green Book” in order to survive. This causes me great despair until I read the blogs of people like Frank Angle who wrote “On MLK 2013” (http://afrankangle.wordpress.com/2013/01/20/on-mlk-2013/ ) about the repentance of Elwin Wilson in 2009, a former Klansman, who attacked and beat a black college student in 1961 when he was one of the Freedom Riders trying to win the ability for African-Americans to travel across country via Greyhound and Trailway buses. The black freedom rider grew up to be Congressman Joe Lewis. Frank Angle included a YouTube video in his blog post of Wilson and Lewis’ exchange of repentance and forgiveness after 50 years, and it makes the viewer understand that there is a God, and one day we will all overcome our bigotry, our stupidity, our short-sightedness, our lack of grace, and our arrogance!
Photo: George Burns| Harpo Studios
For years, Elwin, an admitted former member of the Ku Klux Klan, says he prayed that he would meet the man he attacked at the bus station. –Oprah.com
QUOTES BY MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.
“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
“It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.” – Martin Luther King, Jr