Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
I Was Just One Of The Whites
by Anne E. Silber
The old sign, approximately 30 inches square, sits at the back of my closet, brought out now and then to show an interested person.
I carried the sign all over Chicago during 1966-68 when I marched with Jesse Jackson for Operation Breadbasket. The sign implores people not to buy at the A&P grocery chain, which we picketed because of their discriminatory policies in hiring minorities.
There were quite a few white people like me in the movement. Those who survived the taunts of both white neighbors and black people who didn't particularly love us, stayed through thick or thin. I was one of those. I believed in what we were doing with all my heart.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., came to Chicago during the summer of 1967, and a huge march was formed. I was elated to be with Dr. King, I wanted him to achieve his goal of equality for all people, and I joined the march with my soul on fire.
I remember the terrible humid heat, the dust and the thirst. I held my sign aloft proudly, though my arms ached and ached. The sign already had splotchy tan stains on it where hot coffee had been thrown at me in a previous march.
I moved toward the middle of the row of marchers, as it was safer than the edges, where overhanging tree limbs held hostile youths with rocks to throw down on our heads. Seasoned marchers wore hardhats, but my head was bare.
Then it hit. The missile had been thrown from the right-hand side, from a row of hecklers who were all wearing caps that said "Veterans of Foreign Wars". What hit my cheek was a grapefruit rind. My cheek swelled immediately, and because the cheekbone and eye had also been hit, my right eye blackened also. Later at home, my husband said my cheek looked as if all my teeth had been pulled on that side.
I continued till the end of the march and we disbanded. I could not see Dr. King because of the crowd, but he used a loudspeaker to thank us all, and to tell us he would be back again next year for an even bigger march.
I have never before or since felt my humanity as at that moment. I felt my divinity, too. I felt my oneness with all the people around me, and I knew that I was living a moment that fulfilled my highest purpose.
I continued to march and work for Dr. King's goals until April of 1968. That was when Dr. King was assassinated. He never made it back to Chicago for that planned grand march.
I was just one of the Whites in the crowd of marchers during that historic time. I can still feel the heat and dust, and smell the sweat of all who labored for justice that day.
Anne E. Silber lives in Colorado Springs , Colorado . She has published a Young Adult novella, numerous articles, and is working on an autobiography and a collection of short stories.
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