A Year of Morning Thanks
A huge step
In March, 1968, we drove all night long in order to get to Florida for Spring Break, Daytona Beach. When we got there--as I remember--it was evening, and the place was full of college kids. We looked for someplace to stay but didn't find a thing until--and I don't know how we found it--we stumbled into what seems, in my memory, to have been something akin to a retired army barracks. We got in line. We were third. It was late, and we were getting desperate.
We watched, as a guy and a girl got a room--I was sure they weren't married (we were a long, long ways from Siouxland righteousness). The next couple stepped up to the desk. We were listening closely enough to the conversation to hear the manager tell them that the kids right before them taken the last room he had. Sorry, he said, sweetly.
That left us. Once that screen door slapped shut behind the second couple, we stood there like beggars, then started to turn to follow back outside. "Wait a minute," the manager said. "We don't take their kind here."
He meant the couple in front of us. They were black.
I was 19. That night, and that moment, was really the first time in my life when I looked into the face of a smiling white guy and saw racism. Just a week or so later, Martin Luther King would be dead.
All Americans must be proud, this morning, for what happened last night. People may have some trouble with Barack Obama; they may not know who he is or how to figure him into their perceptions of what people are. Sometimes I wonder, given the stark alternatives, whether he knows himself. Tonight, he'll try to tell us all again, I'm sure.
But we must needs be proud this morning because even though it's taken 400 years, and there's so much horror behind us, this morning there's a candidate for President who is African-American. We've come a long, long way, and that's reason, this morning, to give thanks.