January 20, 2014
The march in downtown Rockingham Monday morning, part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration 2014 weekend-long events, was something to watch.
People of all ages and backgrounds walked along East Washington Street from First United Methodist Church of Rockingham, west to Harrington Square and then south one block to the old courthouse. Many participants in the march sang inspiring songs, such as “We Shall Overcome.”
The name of the song itself is a reminder that Richmond County still has a ways to go in meeting the goal of equality for everyone, regardless of race. It was absolutely fitting the march ended at the steps of the old courthouse on Franklin Street. After all, people of all races are simply seeking justice —that is, fair and impartial treatment without reference to skin color.
As noted in The Daily Journal on Saturday in an article, “Race matters: A conversation about skin color,” today’s policies in Richmond County and North Carolina seem to be based more in policy than yesterday’s blatant, hate-filled speeches. But the result is maddeningly similar: blacks still face unnecessary obstacles in everyday life.
For those old enough to remember the violence in the streets and the hate of oppressive policies such as “whites-only” counters, bathrooms, water fountains, schools and so many other places, it’s easy to find a reason to march, even today, even in Richmond County.
For those who aren’t old enough, Hollywood can help shed light, at least in some way, on the struggles blacks faced in the 1950s, ’60s and even today. Most recently, Forest Whitaker plays Cecil Gaines in “The Butler.” With fellow stars such as Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Oprah Winfrey, Jane Fonda, Robin Williams and Liev Schreiber, among many others, the movie portrays Gaines’s life as he leaves the cotton fields and serves eight presidents as a butler in the White House.
While Gaines worked to remain politically neutral, his son became an active member of the Black Panther Party. The film illustrates, quite vividly, how the simple act of riding a bus through the Deep South could be life-threatening.
Even in Hollywood, though, the veil of racism is still drawn. As Slate.com writer Aisha Harris wrote, “terrific movies are overlooked (for Oscars) every year, of course … but there appears to be an unspoken quota of how many black films can capture our cultural attention at once.”
So the best way to learn from the past, and to move forward, is not through Hollywood. It’s from the experiences and stories handed down from those old enough to remember; from those who walked in the first marches for civil rights 60 years ago.
We can move forward together. To make improvements to our future, we need to continue to honor the past efforts of Martin Luther King Jr. and others and, at the same time, identify weaknesses in our current system that need to be addressed.