This week we honor Martin Luther King Jr., the great activist who played a pivotal role in ending the legal segregation of African-American citizens in the U.S., as well as creating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Recognizing this great man, whose life ended way too soon by a deliberate gun shot, remains indelibly in my heart. I grew up in Memphis in the 1960s, and was fourteen in 1968 when Mr. King was assassinated. The city went silent. Curfews were enforced. The day following his death school classmates were cheering his death, clearly mimicking the sentiments of their parents. Memories of this still turns my stomach. But, gratefully, my parents were sympathetic.
I am fortunate that I was raised by two parents who never saw color, who taught me to respect all people. And I am fortunate I had Karine in my life, whose spirit still remains with me. She was the Black woman who raised me from the time I was five until I went off to college. She taught me about God, about goodness, about loving all people. And she simply loved me. Karine was an educated woman, but because of her color being a maid and nanny was one of the few jobs she could have. And she lived and did her work always with dignity…
I have vivid memories of riding the bus with Karine and going to church with her. We would ride the bus to the zoo. I would sit in the back of the bus with Karine. We would be stared at by many white people but I never cared; I simply stared back. Karine was my dear friend, my family, my comfort. At the zoo she and I had to use separate water fountains and order food from different windows. I never understood this, but I just did what I was told. And going to church with Karine was always a real treat. Her church was a decrepit wooden building with a simple steeple, but the joy and praising of God permeated throughout the tiny building. And in my small way, I got an inkling of what segregation was, for I was the only white person there. People stared at me, asked Karine why she brought me. She would simply say “I love this child as if she were my own”.
I will forever be grateful for Karine. Rarely does a day pass that I don’t think about her.
I love you, Karine! And thank you Dr. King for all you did!