On this day when we commemorate the life of Martin Luther King Jr., I wanted to share links to the photographs that State Chair Jaxon Ravens spoke about during his visit to the 26th LD earlier this month.
Jaxon has every right to be proud of his father, Bob Fitch, and I think he knows how lucky he is to be his son. I could not help but note how amazing it was that we had both arrived at this same place, the Democratic Party, yet had taken such different routes to get here.
In the spring of 1968, I was six years old, living on the base at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. My father was an enlisted man supporting six children, and assigned to training new sailors. After almost twenty years in the service, he finally had an assignment that did not take him out to sea away from his family for months at a time. I attended school outside the gates of the base in the racially mixed city of North Chicago.
I was already an avid reader, and I spent hours studying the encyclopedias that my father had purchased from a shipmate who sold them door-to-door to make extra money. (This was very common, as my father sold vacuum cleaners in his spare time.) I eagerly devoured the sections on U.S. Presidents and the 50 states. I also remember how I looked forward to Fridays when our class would share My Weekly Reader, which was my main source for news of the world around me.
After Dr, King’s death, I copied my young black friends my cutting out his picture and gluing it to the front of my construction paper folder that held my week’s work. I recall my father coming home that afternoon in his clean white uniform, sitting at the dining room table. When he noticed my folder, he became enraged, and demanded to know why I would decorate my folder with a picture of this “nigger.” My answer that “everybody else was doing it,” was not good enough, so I lied and told him that my teacher, Mrs. Morrison, “made” us do it. He stormed over to the phone hanging on the wall, preparing to call the school to raise hell. When I stopped him, and admitted that it was my own decision, he quickly retrieved his leather belt and administered a brutal dose of punishment. When he was done, and I was still wailing, he told me to go to school on Monday and tell the class during Show-and-Tell that he was the man who had killed Martin Luther King, and that he was proud of it. I remember being confused, and believing that he, indeed, could have been the killer, given his hatred for Dr.King. At this point, my mother finally intervened and was able to calm my father, and I was sent to bed without supper. Hours later, my mother snuck some food to me in my room as I sat alone in my room, still crying. While she gently rubbed the red marks on my body left by the belt, she told me that my father beat me because I lied to him, and not because of the folder. But even at six, I knew better, and he confirmed my feelings by referring to me as “mama’s little nigger lover” for many days afterwards.
My point in relating this painful story is that, especially on this day, we should honor all of those who suffered and sacrificed for the civil rights movement by continuing the struggle. Although race relations are still an issue today, we have come so very far from 1968. Yet now, with Donald Trump preparing to take office, we must hold tight to our ideals of equality and justice in America. Democrats must work even harder to keep moving forward with civil rights, and stand up for our Muslim and immigrant neighbors as this four year term of uncertainty begins. We must, at the same time, realize that Trump supporters today are not necessarily bad people, but merely a product of our times, the same way my father was in 1968.
My second point is much simpler: please be kind to each other. We are all fragile creatures, us human beings, and we need to be handled with care. Unless you know a person intimately, you may never know the secret pain or shame that they carry, so let’s treat each other gently. Please take the time to listen to others, and show respect for their feelings, even when we disagree.
Inside of me, that 6-year-old boy still remains. He still longs for approval and validation of his beliefs, likely explaining my great reverence for men like Hugh McMillan, George Robison and Larry Seaquist. And, finally, if the six-year-old kid inside of you needs a hug from time to time, I want you to know that I’m here for you.
John Kelly, Chair
26th LD Democrats