When I look back now I am amazed -- and ashamed, really -- that in those long ago days it never occurred to me that there was something wrong that no black faces were to be seen on major league diamonds.
Or on minor league diamonds, which I had a more intimate knowledge of. Or on the football fields of southern colleges. It never occurred to me that this was an unusual thing.
That's just the way it was. And it was wrong.
And no such faces were to be seen in restaurants, main line stores, and in the regular parts of town.
We who were being properly raised called these folks Negroes or Colored people. The terminology has evolved into what is encouraged in use today -- African-Americans. Heny Mencken used the term "Aframericans" long ago but it never took hold.
I prefer to use the term Americans, because I don't think one has to use adjectives among us people of this country.
I am writing this now because something important happened 40 years ago this month, and, I am happy to say, I was part of it.
Selma, Alabama, in 1965 was a city of social tragedy. I had traveled there many times in that year and preceding years. The professional baseball team there was part of the Class D Alabama-Florida League. I covered, as a ball writer, that league.
So, as segregated as Pensacola was, Selma (and Montgomery, for that matter) was worse. The hostility toward African Americans there was palpable.
And then there was a lot going on in those years. Mississippi had been the site of monstrous crimes. A church had been bombed in Birmingham, in the Alabama I loved so much. A police boss named Bull Connor was using fire hoses on our fellow Americans.
It was wrong. It was very wrong.
And the thought occurred and grew that it didn't have to be this way and these ways had to end.
One enters Selma from the east by crossing the Alabama River on the Pettus Bridge. A short ways up on the right was the old Hotel Albert -- right out of the 19th century.
That Pettus Bridge was to gain fame on March 6 and 7, 1965, just 40 years ago. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was going to lead a march of hundreds of people who decided to assert their God-given freedom from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama's capital.
George Corley Wallace was Alabama's governor then. He gained notoriety as perhaps the biggest racist in the South. But he really wasn't.
He had been beaten a few years earlier in a race for governor by a man named John Patterson, who was a bigger racist. As a result of losing, Wallace announced that he would never be "out-n------d" again. Thus he set himself on that course.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was already law. A Southerner, Lyndon Johnson, gave us that; Jack Kennedy avoided racial progress like the plague.
Even with that law in place, African-Americans were still being denied in this country. It was outrageous -- that I and people of my skin color should have rights, opportunities, privileges while people of dark skin should be denied what I freely enoyed? Outrageous. If you take issue with that, sorry.
I saw John Lewis, now a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, being clubbed that day by a man in a police uniform. He was one of the many being terrorized and brutalized.
Keep this in mind -- God in Heaven, these were Americans beating on other Americans. For one reason and one reason only: Because they were black and because they were asking for what was rightfully theirs; what all the rest of us had automatically.
I am glad I was there. I considered those afflicted -- there in Selma that day and all around this country -- my brothers and sisters.
I still do.
Return to Home Page
Return to Current Edition