Stride Toward Freedom

After seeing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter Bernice speak a few months ago, I decided it was time to start reading MLK’s books. I have always loved his famous quotes, so I knew I would love any of his books.

I started with Strive Toward Freedom, his account of the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 and 1956. If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to. I didn’t think it was possible for me to revere him more than I did…well, I do now, after reading in detail what he and his colleagues accomplished and lived through during the boycott.

Courtesy of wikipedia.org

He and his wife, Coretta, met while they were both studying in Boston. He had job offers in the North after graduation, but he and Coretta decided they would be of more service in their native South. He became pastor of a church in Montgomery, Alabama, and immediately got involved in several civic groups to tackle segregation.

The arrest of Rosa Parks sparked the bus boycott. MLK and his colleagues decided it was time “to refuse to cooperate with an evil system.” First they convinced black taxi drivers to charge the bus fare on their routes. When they were told about a law that limited taxis to a minimum fare, they mobilized 300 volunteer drivers and set up an entire system of pick-up and drop-off points around the city.

They hired staff to oversee the car pool and had community meetings regularly to keep people informed. At these meetings, MLK and his colleagues stressed the importance of non-violent resistance. He and his colleagues met with city officials to talk about their demands: courteous service, seating first come, first served, and hiring of black drivers for routes in black neighborhoods.

The city wasn’t having any of it, so it started arresting people, including MLK, and declared boycotting to be illegal. MLK and his colleagues received threatening phone calls and letters day and night. MLK’s house was bombed.

I won’t explain any further because I want you to have some surprises when you read the book. But, in short, it was an uphill battle for blacks but they prevailed. As November 6 approaches, I will leave you with some quotes from the book’s conclusion:

“In short, this crisis has the potential for democracy’s fulfillment or fascism’s triumph; for social progress or retrogression.”

“This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for rigorous and positive action.”

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Gloria Steinem’s Life on the Road

I decided that I should read some of Gloria Steinem‘s work after seeing her speak at the Massachusetts Conference for Women in December. I virtually knew nothing about her except for the fact that she is a feminist and an amazing human being, so I really enjoyed reading My Life on the Road. The book title called to me because sometimes I wish that more of my life was spent “on the road.”

Reading this soon after my dad died, I was startled to find that the first chapter is about her father and her odd childhood. Her father was such a nomad that Gloria did not attend school as a child. On page 17, she explains that he was in a car accident and she didn’t make it to the hospital before he died. It brought me comfort to know that I was not the only person on the Earth who was not with my father as he drew his last breath. I ached for her and myself as I read, “I will never stop wishing I had been with him.”

It was fascinating to read about her experiences as a freelance journalist and organizer. She talks about how her life changed because of her participation in the 1977 National Women’s Conference in Houston—an event I had never heard of. She talks about speaking on campuses and in churches and at conferences. One experience she has is more eye-opening than the other.

She ends the book by talking about how she finally found a balance in life after decades of being on the road. She writes, “I can go on the road—because I can come home. I come home—because I’m free to leave.” A beautiful way to live.

 

Pursuing Justice from a Place of Love

 

 

 

 

 

 

A friend and I saw Martin Luther King Jr.’s youngest child, Bernice, speak at the Boston Public Library as part of the Lowell Institute Lecture Series. Like her father, she is a minister, as well as being CEO of the King Center.

She inherited her father’s mesmerizing speaking skills. She started out by encouraging the audience to visit the new Legacy Museum and Memorial that just opened in Montgomery, Alabama. I had heard a little about the lynching memorial, but I made a promise to myself to really read about it and the museum. She then launched into her (and her father’s) philosophy of nonviolence to create social change.

A theme she repeated a few times was that justice must come from a place of love, not anger and retaliation. She quoted her father’s work and explained that when he had the idea for the bus boycott, his goal was not to shut down the bus company, but to infuse justice INTO the bus company.

I asked myself multiple times during her talk, “Is MLK Jr. rolling in his grave, knowing that 50 years later, we are still failing at combating racism?” His hope that his four children would one day live in a nation where they would not be judged by the color of their skin is still a hope and nowhere near a reality.

I haven’t read any of MLK Jr.’s books, but hearing her quote from them, I am eager to read them. I’ll start at the beginning, with Stride Toward Freedom.

Even though King barely knew her father (she was five years old when he was assassinated), she seems to share his passion for this crucial social justice work.

 

 

Gloria and Dan

I saw two 20th-century icons speak recently: Gloria Steinem and Dan Rather.

Gloria was a keynote speaker at the opening night of the Massachusetts Conference for Women. I hadn’t  attended the conference before, so the opening night was a good overview of the event. The exhibit hall was impressive: areas for career resources, nonprofits, female business owners selling their products, and multiple authors available for book signings. There were other keynote speakers that evening as well, but my friend and I only tuned in for Gloria.

I wish I could pass on some nuggets of her wisdom, but since my dad’s sudden death, most of my day-to-day thoughts and memories are crowded out by my thoughts and memories of him. I do recall that she was fierce, real, and optimistic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dan is touring with his recently published book with Elliot Kirschner, What Unites Us. Again, I don’t remember a word he said, but he was also fierce, real, and optimistic. I saw him speak on the one-month anniversary of my dad’s passing, and I fell asleep that night wishing that I could tell my dad all about it, since he was a fan of 60 Minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m trying to get back in the saddle regarding the birthday list, but I’m taking it slow and will give myself an extra month or two to complete it. Bear with me, dear readers.

 

Travel as a Political Act

Rick Steves is my spirit guide when it comes to traveling. He encourages people to travel off the beaten path, mingle with locals, and travel thoughtfully. If you haven’t heard of him, he has his own travel company and guidebook series and also has a PBS TV show and radio show. He is out there, spreading his important message of travel as a political act.

I’m the kind of traveler who rarely takes time to relax when I’m traveling. I love the idea of it, but I always end up hitting as many museums and cultural sites as possible, taking public transportation vs. taxis, and walking around as much as I can. So I can relate to Rick’s travel philosophy.

He sometimes does speaking tours, and my friends are I were lucky enough to attend his talk in Boston this spring. I think the talk was slated to run an hour or an hour and a half, and he spoke for almost three hours! Talk about getting our money’s worth.

He spoke about his travel background and gave tips on traveling in Europe and how to pack for trips. At the end of the talk, he announced how he would be handling the book signing afterward. I was impressed by how innovative it was. Instead of him sitting at a table while a long single-file line grows, he stood in the middle of the venue’s lobby and attendees formed a circle around him. Then he just moved around in a circle, signing as he turned. This method didn’t leave much time for chat, which might disappoint people. But it sure was efficient.

If you ever find yourself planning a trip to Europe, visit the Rick Steves website and/or pick up one of his guidebooks. You’ll thank me for it.

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