Thursday, November 6, 2008

My Unsung Heroes

On June 21, 1964, Father's Day and the first day of "The Freedom Summer", thousands marched through the streets of Chicago in support of the Civil Rights Act that Lyndon Johnson would sign the following month. I would not remember this march except for its timing: it took place on the day my second son was born.

I shared a room with a tall red head who had been brought to the hospital by her husband and then unaccountably been left alone to give birth to their child. "Oh, he had a more important place to be" she explained with a bright smile. More important than the birth of his son? Unbelievable! Late in the day, her young husband came bounding in dressed in stiff collar and black pastoral clothes, smiling from ear to ear. Pinned on his chest was a button which read " I care, and I'll be there".

Over the next day I learned that he was a young Methodist minister in South Side Chicago, a place of poverty, violence, drugs and despair. We lived not in the reclaimed Obamas' Hyde Park of today but in the Hyde Park of 45 years ago, dangerous and derelict. It was there that I saw a small black girl whose arm, when she was an infant, had been mangled by the rat that fed on her in the night. This horrific possibility caused me to leap out of bed at the slightest peep from my older child's crib.

On that Sunday, the young pastor had opted to march at the head of his congregation through downtown Chicago. This was a brave choice: though it wasn't known yet, that day 3 young Northerners would be murdered in Mississippi for trying to register black voters. In Chicago, the police's brutal responses were feared by one and all. A few months before, terrified, I had seen a gun drawn and aimed at my husband who, while rushing across the street in pouring rain in the dark, had failed to understand that the order to "Stop where you are!" was meant for him. My scream had prevented the worst.

At no personal risk, I had protested the invasion of Hungary in Belgium and I had marched to "Ban-the-Bomb" in England but in the US, I felt foreign, fearful and disengaged. The choice the pastor made the day his son was born pointed out the obvious: to raise two American children as one should, I couldn't sit on the fence indefinitely. And I didn't.

On election night as I basked in Obama's eloquent speech, I remembered with deep affection my unsung heroes, this young staunchly committed couple, and I hoped that they were still in Chicago to enjoy their share of this splendid victory.

1 comment:

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

You made me cry again. Happy tears.