They were black. It was Sunday. They were at church.
This particular incident in the fight for Civil Rights stands out in my mind because it happened on my birthday. I was nine. The four little girls who died that day were Addie Mae Collins (aged 14), Denise McNair (aged 11), Carole Robertson (aged 14), and Cynthia Wesley (aged 14).
In November of that year, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, a president who was beloved by the black community, was assassinated. I was in school that Friday afternoon when the news was broadcast. I cried as I walked home – hardly noticing how empty the streets were.
I don’t remember the passing of Malcolm X as vividly (February, 1965); nor do I remember much about the war in Vietnam – except that I changed the channel when the news footage came on TV.
In April, 1968, while I was looking forward to watching Bewitched, there was a news announcement that Martin Luther King, Jr., had been murdered. The funeral was held in Atlanta, and there was a peace march. My mother wouldn’t let me go for fear that violence would break out. What more could happen, I wondered.
Only two months later, Robert Kennedy was shot. It was the middle of the night on the East Coast; but I had an upset stomach that night. Consequently, my parents and I were watching Kennedy’s victory speech, and saw the tragedy unfold.
You’ll notice I tend to use the term “black” instead of the more politically correct, “African-American.” Back in 1968, I was “colored” or “Negro.” But that August, the late James Brown proclaimed, “say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud.” I’ve been proudly black ever since.
I was living in Los Angeles and watched the start of the Gulf War on TV.
I was in New York, on September 11, 2001, on my way to work, when I looked up to see the two World Trade Center buildings in flames.
Freedom costs. Sometimes we get so caught up in our daily lives that we lose sight of the fact that we in the United States live in an exceptional country. Although our forefathers proclaimed our “right” to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that right is also a privilege.
With that privilege comes a duty to stand up – as others have stood for us. Even now, in the Middle East, our soldiers risk their lives daily to preserve our freedom. We’re not deigned to have a voice in our government – we’re blessed.
This November – and every election day of your life – no matter what your political leaning, remember that countless men and women in every generation have died so that you will have a voice. Honor them by using that voice.