Black history deserves more than February

Jim Lee

Since Saturday was the vernal equinox, the first day of spring (according to the calendar anyway), I have an easy choice for a topic this week. Of course, as we all know by now, that means I’ll go on and on about something totally unrelated to that.
I neglected to write about the African-American experience last month, and February is Black (or African-American) History Month.
As far as I know, I have no African-American relatives or ancestors. If I did I would be very proud, just as I am proud of my Native American great-grandmother.
No, I didn’t write about our African-American countrymen, but I thought about the subject a lot. I really did. Frankly, I simply did not know what to do.
Since I am not of African descent and therefore cannot realize what it is to be African-American, I did not feel qualified to write about it. So I did nothing. I thought that was reasonable and responsible. Later, I started thinking that I had been lazy or insensitive and had found a convenient excuse.
It all started last month, the second week of February as a matter of fact. Saundra and I were on our weekly safari for groceries and impulse buying at you-know-where.
When we proceeded to the end of the check-out line (somewhere between hardware and Muleshoe), I saw the guy with that awful T-shirt.
A young man who looked to be in his late teens to early 20s stood near the line of grocery carts talking to a couple of acquaintances. They all seemed like nice people, but the young man in the faded jeans, discount store cowboy hat, and an expression that could make Jerry Falwell believe in evolution, wore a dusty old T-shirt that still bugs the poobah out of me.
It sported a picture of a capitol dome flying a Confederate flag and a caption reading: “I have a dream.” That is what that person wore out in public during Black History Month.
It is difficult to imagine anything more disrespectful to Martin Luther King Jr., the author of those magic words. I wonder how this young man would have reacted to segregation and discrimination if he were old enough to be around in the early 1960s. The again, maybe I don’t want to know.
The situation tossed me another surprise. Guilt. Why didn’t I write something in honor of Black History Month? Why didn’t I say something about the monumental accomplishment of overcoming such oppression and such opposition to reason and humanity.
Just think of the character, strength, and courage that took, and the greatness it sparked. All of us Americans owe far more than February to honor the achievement.
I also felt guilty because I should have done more when more was needed. As a young adult I rode in the back of a bus in the “colored” section as some sort of statement. I protested at an all-white lunch counter. I went to a KKK meeting to argue with the creeps who really believed that racist poison. I attended a march and saw King in person. To all that, someone who really did anything significant should say, “So what?” I’ll always regret not being more of a part of the grand movement.
Black History Month is over for this year, but I want to express my respect and admiration for African-American guts, honor, intelligence, and accomplishment. Well done, fellow Americans.
I have a dream, too. In this dream, racism and ignorance become obsolete, and young people who weren’t even born during King’s time wake up and extend a hand instead of a fist.
Jim Lee is news director for KENW-FM radio. He also is an English instructor. He can be contacted at 359-2204. His e-mail:
dr_james_lee@hotmail.com