In recent conversations, someone asked again what I thought we accomplished and what we did not. In this 1988 journal entry, I wrote something that still feels true today: People ask what was it like? Everyone and their sister is writing MLK and Civil Rights Movement retrospectives. “Mississippi Burning” glamorizes the Movement. The Movement. The Movement meant everything, everybody: opportunity, equality, peace and freedom. It meant housing, education, jobs. It meant cleaning up or tearing down slums, an end to the problems of violence, alcoholism and hard drugs.
It meant integration – now a dirty word to many. It meant celebrating your roots yet accepting we are all one. It didn’t mean having quotas for “people of color”, African Americans – it meant everyone was seen so equally that nobody would even consider race as a qualification or disqualification for anything. It meant media didn’t use qualifiers for non-white, non-male descriptions. Eg. “Tom Jacobs, black male age 24” v. “Tom Jacobs age 24.”
We will all be all brothers and sisters who love, respect and encourage each other. We wouldn’t only be there for ‘our’ people. We would each each other’s food and celebrate each other’s holidays (and it wouldn’t be called appropriation because we’d be doing it together with the cultural group leading). We planned to turn America into a world leader in brotherhood, political action and volunteerism. That meant we would create with our own hands and voices whatever we needed to fulfill this very American dream.
The Movement intended to shake the political system so that the wealthy, selfish, bigoted people would fall down like rotting fruit. We’d elect the young, the bright, the inspired. We dreamed of a new Kennedy and King, not caring what they looked like but how they stood up for those values. That’s what the Movement meant back then. We didn’t know we were dreamers, we believed this was possible. And that’s what kept us going.