Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Diary of Zita Cecilia McNamara: On Civil Rights

Editor's Note: Click HERE to read Dr. C's previous post on the origin of Zita's diary. This entry begins with 13-year-old Zita writing to her guardian angel, "Bishop."

Dear Bishop (Day 20) This Sunday was great! The “Freedom March” took place. There 125,000 or more marchers in downtown Detroit with standing on the sidewalks of Woodward Ave. People yelled that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was passing by; my Mother and I had a chance to see him. Then, we joined in the march. We managed to get into Cobo Hall and get a seat. Wow! That was really something!

Reflections: When there was all the talk on the radio prior to this big march, I was not really clear about its significance. It was my Mother and Daddy who set me down and really explained to me why this march was so important. Daddy knew he would not be able to attend because he would have to work, yes, even on Sunday. However, he felt good that he knew Mother and I would carry his spirit with us.

Knowing that the traffic would be great and parking spaces at a premium, Mother and I left early. We wanted to get a good spot to see Dr. King. A few years prior, Mother had taken me to hear him give a sermon at Central Methodist Church in downtown Detroit. So, I knew he was a good speaker. And Mother and Daddy made certain I would sit and watch the national news being very aware of the civil rights movement. And I even thought, when I got a little older, I would want to become a freedom rider. 

Of course, it would be only about a year later that Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner would be murdered. And in the following March of 1965, Viola Liuzzo would be murdered, believing that she was compelled to South and lend her support of those struggling because “it was everyone’s fight.” And after keeping abreast of the news, seeing the struggles of the marchers, and hearing the powerful “I Have A Dream” speech by Dr. King on that Sunday afternoon, I knew that civil rights had to be my fight, too.

Oh, let me talk about that speech and the electricity in the audience. Yes, most folks have heard the speech when made in Washington, D.C. However, I can say it was really something for those of us in Cobo Hall. First, what I will always remember is that feeling of belonging, belonging to something bigger than I. And I felt so safe. And I felt loved by people whom I did not even know. It was like a big family of people with one major goal—to sustain justice and equality for all people. 

Yes, I know Dr. King used his speech on us in Detroit as a test. Well, that speech most definitely passed the test. Every simile, metaphor, and personification contained in that speech were greeted with hoops and hollers, tears, and “Amens” of affirmation. There were so many passages that received resounding applauses of appreciation; people of all faiths, ethnicities, and social classes were one on that day, June 23, 1963. And my mother and I were a part of it!

Now, as I reflect on all that day meant for the city, its people, and for me, I am so very grateful to God that I had the kind of parents who knew that this was something very important, and they wanted me to be a part. I was a part of history! Wow!

I am concerned. Today in this 21st century, much of what many, including myself, marched for, much that many were beaten for, and much that some lost their lives for, some people do not seem to care. Most definitely, the struggle is not done. And when I hear many young people of all races say: “My vote don’t count. Why should I vote?” So, they do not go to the polls; I want to slap them silly! The one right that is clearly specified in the U.S. Constitution, a right that many have died for, the one right that can be a catalyst for change and many ask the question “why?” It is sad that, possibly, many in the generation post “baby boomers” do not know their country’s political history or their actual heritage.

Most definitely, I wish they knew it is because of every civil right that is in the U.S. Constitution that many of our ancestors came across oceans or escaped at night from their chains to pursue and experience a special freedom to be equal, treated equally, and have the rights to be able to pursue happiness as long as they do not hurt others or hinder others’ rights. Instead, there are too many fighting and dying and killing to get the next shipment of drugs. Instead, there are too many becoming engaged in an inane altercation because “somebody looked at me.” Instead, there are too many concerned about obtaining that new shiny automobile and becoming engaged in road rage when someone has “cut me someone off.” 

I never want to forget that feeling of being a part of something so great rather than seeing on the news so many being apart from their fellow citizen for such trivia. I hope the dream that so many rejoiced in hearing is never lost in people’s nightmares.

I never want to forget that feeling of being a part of something so great rather than seeing on the news so many being apart from their fellow citizen for such trivia. I hope the dream that so many rejoiced in hearing is never lost in people’s nightmares.