Jimmy Zuma

Jimmy Zuma
Washington, District of Columbia,
August 01
After ten years haunting online political forums and much longer as a disability rights advocate, Jimmy Zuma started the online political journal, Smart v. Stupid. Since then, he has emerged as one of the left’s most direct new voices. Almost immediately, Jimmy was offered the opportunity to join the political team at Technorati where he writes DC Water Cooler, a weekly feature on what the politicians and pundits are talking about. Most recently, his columns began appearing in the Tucson Sentinel in Tucson Arizona. He is also an occasional contributor to OpEd News. Jimmy's goal is to return vetting to the marketplace of ideas, by elevating the status of smart ideas and debunking dumb ones.

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Editor’s Pick
AUGUST 26, 2011 8:02AM

White boy in the shadow of Martin Luther King

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A great leader finally has the memorial he so richly deserves

“All men are caught in an inescapable network of  mutuality.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

I remember the day the black kids came to Greenbelt Junior High School. This was not the court-ordered bussing mlk brett davis bsivadthat would begin in 1974. This was integration, and it was 1969. By this day, Martin Luther King, Jr. had already been murdered by some dumb cracker. He wasn’t alone. During the 1960’s dumb crackers were still killing a lot of good men. In the South, looking someone directly in the eye could still be a hanging offense.

“It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

In the days leading up to the arrival of the new bus, the morning announcements were followed by speeches from the principal or vice principal aimed at fostering pride in good behavior. I don’t know what they imagined we’d do when these darker skinned kids showed up, but all the speechifying just made us nervous.

On the actual day, the bus lane was lined on one side with police cars and the other side with police officers. About half of the white kids had been kept home by their parents. The black kids arrived, though, without much hullaballoo. The whole big event, witnessed by at least one reporter, took about two minutes from start to finish.

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

I’m sure the new kids were a little nervous too. They’d gone from a one-room clapboard schoolhouse the day before, to a thirty-classroom building full of white kids they had never met. They had never had a gym or a cafeteria or a library to navigate. But they were determined to walk in with heads held high, and if I’d known just how much character they’d displayed, I’d have admired them.

“Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

I had growmlk being photographed brett davis Bsivadn up knowing that there was a neighborhood of “Negros” somewhere, but I’d never been there and would never think of going  there. The old men in my neighborhood had a far less attractive name for Lakeland; one which I won’t repeat here. The neighborhood was nestled in a crook of the Paint Branch where it met Indian Creek. It was bounded on another side by railroad tracks and buffered on the side facing my neighborhood by what we called “The Woods.” There was no lake in Lakeland. It was bottom land, I’d later learn. And it flooded all the time.

Lakeland was just across the creek from the flagship College Park campus of the University of Maryland. But it might as well been on the other side of an ocean. Those African American kids arriving at Greenbelt Junior High were probably the first Lakelanders who ever had a chance to cross the creek and go to university.

“Segregation is the adultery of an illicit intercourse between injustice and immorality.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

Over the next year and a half that I spent at Greenbelt Junior High, the black kids – about two lunch tables full in all – mostly stayed to themselves. Occasionally some white kid would claim to have been abused by one or another of them, but their arrival at school was mostly unremarkable. I never befriended a black kid and none befriended me. As I remember, there were no black teachers. But it was the beginning of the end of racial segregation if not yet the beginning of the end of racism.

“Now, I say to you today my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: – ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”

Martin Luther King Jr., Speech at the Civil Rights March on Washington, August 28, 1963

The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial is now open. Festivities continue throughout the week.

Photos courtesy of Brett Davis. Used by permission.

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Reminds me of those days in Maryland. Great Post! R
Great post. It is nice to hear about integration from the other side of the fence.

I spent my early elementary years in Glenarden, a middle class black neighborhood in Maryland just five miles from Greenbelt. It was a pretty insulated community -- there were black military people, and lawyers, doctors and postal workers.

Most of the families were blacks who were leaving Washington, D.C. for a better life in the suburbs after riots and upheavals following Dr. Martin Luther King's assasination in 1968.

I remember we moved into the last house owned by a white family in the development.

We were bused to all-white Magnolia Elementary in Lanham around 1973. There had been violent incidents in Boston and I remember my parents were concerned. On the first day a caravan of black mothers followed the buses to Magnolia to make sure we were not mistreated when we got there.

My mother grew up in a very segregated South Carolina. A bunch of white men had once come to lynch her father, forcing him to hide out in the nearby woods and swamps for weeks. And she had taken part in the civil rights movement at lunch counters and been spat on and had mustard and ketchup poured on her head by white ruffians, so she knew how mean white people then could be.

I can still remember the way my mother looked, liked a young lioness ready to protect her two male cubs -- my brother and me. I will never forget the look of love, concern and worry in her eyes as she stood against the cafeteria wall with the other parents, watching my brother and I eat a welcome breakfast of hard boiled eggs and frosted flakes.

But nothing happened that day and soon all the kids were playing together like color didn't matter. And within a week our parents stopped coming to check on us.

I do remember there was this one chubby white kid with curly black hair who would call me the "N" word and yell "White is Wonderful" in my face.

"Black is beautiful," I would shout back.

And then I would chase after him and punch him. Eventually he got the point and stopped the name calling.

Other incidents were more a matter of mutual curiousity. There was this white boy who was so fascinated with my Afro he would ask to touch it and run his fingers through it. I found his straight, lanky hair an oddity as well and asked whether he would let me touch it in return.

I wish there was a happy ending to this but there really wasn't. Racism was still there but it was subtle.

White flight began, with white families moving into the outer Washington, D.C. suburbs of Bowie and Crofton in Anne Arundel County. I can remember white kids yelling "nigger" one time when my father drove through one of these areas during Sunday drives.

Prince George's County, Maryland soon became a majority black county although it has a reputation of being the most highly educated and affluent majority African American County in the nation. And now even Bowie and Crofton have sizable black populations.

Today Maryland is a very diverse state and more liberal than most but races still tend to be pretty segregated.

I wonder how things would have turned
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“Now, I say to you today my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: – ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”
I sometimes get a chill creeping along my arms and neck when someone points out the distinctive integrity of a black man holding all men accountable for fair and equitable treatment when only white men held the power in their hands. I wasn't politically aware when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. I lived, however, in the shadowy days as a child from when 'coloreds' and 'negroes' was an everyday word in white man's lexicon. When little children said, 'nigger' like it was a swear word, because they knew it was an insult.

And how times have changed. I don't know how proud Mr. King would be of his fellow black man today, because now white men and boys do not use 'nigger' without fearing great reprisal and other black men call each other that hated word as if it were a badge of honor as they revile the integration of becoming a part of this society, while many of their brothers and sisters cannot understand why anyone, especially the black skinned, would ever use that word at all?

Maybe we've made progress. It's clear we still have a long way to go. On both sides of the color barrier. I hope that the words and ideals of Martin Luther King, Jr. become the clarion call for equality based on our basic humanity and nature and, in his words,
"Where all men are judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin."

One of the greatest men who ever lived, I think.

Great piece, Jerry.
Owl- heads up BROTHER ... your zippers down, dude ... I want to send you a msg on the coconut wireless of OS: stop making yourself look, er, credulous and bigoted.

Since it obviously bothers YOU mr., let me point out the obvious, as you've got more than just a little hate in your eyes, and it has no business on the same page as Dr. King- the reason people of color call each other nigger, oh, and every other racial epithet directed at every sub-group in every culture around the world does the exact same thing, shit holmes, even the white folks here in Hawaii do it, they call themselves HAOLE, why? because they are.

It is called appropriation. Taking ownership of the word is the ONLY way to start the process of changing the hate behind it, of taking the power away from passive aggressives and worse haters than that, who feel OK throwing the word NIGGER around indiscriminately, in mixed company, in 2011, like that would be cool with anyone normal.

AUWE (Alas)
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@Jimmy Zuma and @Gregory Wright, thank you both for writing of your experiences. I have to tell you both, as someone born in 1973, forced racial segregation feels so archaic. I am always shocked when reminded that segregation and overt bigotry is an unpleasant memory to my folks (and husband), rather than a passage from long ago in a history book.
Gregory, you write “I wish there was a happy ending to this but there really wasn't. Racism was still there but it was subtle.” I agree with you that subtle racism still perseveres. Every once and a while, some jerk in a bar will whisper something bigoted in my ear. It always floors me, as if, because I am white, I am not going to find his (always a male, sorry) bigotry to be humorous. Honestly, in my youth, I would passively allowed for racist banter, turning my back rather than expressing my disgust. Now, I take the opportunity to publically humiliate the jerk, in a hope to permanently silent his public expressions of hatred.
Go to any funeral or a wedding, and you will be reminded that segregation continues for most.
On the upside, I have to tell you that I think progress is being made, and swiftly, because of our youth. My daughter, now 18, tells me that in her high school, it did not matter your race, if you liked someone, and they liked you back, it was a done deal. I live in Howard County, Maryland and when I first moved into my husband’s house, 12 years ago, I thought the community lacked diversity. Now, my son’s 3rd grade class is made up of many different ethnicities (lucky boy is going to have some beautiful women to date when he is in high school).
The instances of racist banter have become less and less. It is my hope that for my children, the idea of single race funerals and weddings seem like ancient history to them. I hope that no one ever feels comfortable enough to whisper bigotry into their ears.
Again, thanks for writing of your experiences.