musings, memoir, life in the mountains

Just Thinking...

Just Thinking...
October 04
~ welcome! ~ I'm Anna Herrington ~ aka Anna F. aka Mom aka Nana aka 'JT...,' aka Writer. and NaNoWriMo fan ~ Photographs my own unless noted ~ To see all posts, click on 'Just Thinking...' above, and scroll ~ Writing here at Open Salon since June 2010 ~ Also writing at (my link, below), in 'A Different Perspective' collection ~ writing submissions there are welcome. ~


APRIL 5, 2011 5:12PM

The Day After

Rate: 27 Flag


On the morning of April 5, 1968, my parents were scheduled to have a meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Our family lived in Atlanta, Georgia then, a family of Northerners living in the South by company transfer. One of my mother's volunteer efforts during those years included her work with the Atlanta Council for International Visitors.

The purpose of this meeting was to introduce a group of visiting Nigerian women to Dr. King, they had been travelling all over our country for weeks. Their last stop, and the highlight of their American visit, was to come to Atlanta and meet Dr. King. The Atlanta Council was quite excited to have made this meeting happen.

With news of Dr. King's assassination the evening before, my parents didn't quite know what to do. The women were staying at a hotel near the airport, over an hour away from our house, their flight back to Nigeria was due to leave that afternoon.

These visitors had to be as stunned as my parents were, as the rest of the world was, by this sudden act of fatal violence. They were possibly frightened to be African women sitting alone in the American South of that time. There was no contingency plan extended from the Council for them on this day, there was just chaos and grief.

My parents made the decision to go get them and bring them home for an early lunch.  

While Atlanta billed itself as 'The City Too Busy to Hate' during the riots and civic unrest of the sixties, this city was in actuality as racially divided as much of the South was, as much as the country was, and not only in attitude. Most whites lived in the northern half of Atlanta then, while most blacks lived in the southern half.

While we didn't have "help" coming to our house in the northern suburbs while my father was alive, most of our neighbors did. My world was so segregated at the age of seven, that the only black people I ever saw in our neighborhood were the maids and gardeners walking to and from the buses that took them from their homes too long  a ride away, to the northern neighborhoods where many worked.

Times were so different then.

I wish I knew more about the finer details of this lunch gathering, I was off at school that day, but I can surmise a few things. They likely ate lunch at our kitchen table, the old pine table that sits in my kitchen now. Then, the table overlooked a woodsy front yard, with the outdoor bird feeder centered in the window's view. My father loved birds, and hated the squirrels who incessantly tried new tricks to steal the bird seed, so I'd guess a few funny tales of his acts of squirrel sabotage ensued.

Mom always made soup and a sandwich for lunch:  Campbell's Tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches likely, or turkey cold cuts...possibly carrot sticks. Coffee would definitely have been served, with tea offered as well. There were usually sweets stashed somewhere in our house, hidden from their youngest child's raging sweet tooth (me, that is). Were the chocolates brought out for these guests? Probably.

My parents were curious, they had the gift of easy conversation, so I'd guess these women were asked about their lives at home and how their tour of America had been going. They were also not afraid to ask direct questions, so possibly political stories of our two countries, of their personal lives, were discussed.

I imagine the main conversation would've been about the immediate tragedy of Dr. King's death, but the larger story of racial relations in America, and in the South, must have come up. This conversation my parents would've found very important to discuss with these women from Africa.

They found this topic important to discuss, period.

I wish I'd asked more about this lunch when my mother was alive. What were these women wearing? The designer/artist in me wonders what patterns, what colors, did they wear? Traditional dress? Western dress? Did they speak English? I don't know. The conversations did happen, so probably an interpretor was with them if they didn't know our language. 

I do know this:  when the lunch was over, coats and shawls were being gathered for the long drive back to the airport. While the group was in the hall, in the middle of last-minute chats and clothes' adjustings, one woman put her arm on my mother's -- and all the motions stopped. The women's smiles grew broad while this one woman spoke.

"I would like to thank you very much for a day we will never forget. We have been in your country for many, many days now and have seen many sights, met many people. What we will never forget is you-- your home, your kindness to us all today. In all of our days in your country, we have not been invited into one American home, until today.

"For that, we will remember." 


An interesting epilogue ~  two years ago, I was told by an acquaintance that by Nigerian custom, it is an insult not to invite a visitor to one's home. The person who told me this felt that it is very likely that this tale has also been told for many years among those women's families in Nigeria, as it has been in my family, and that my parents would be remembered by them with honor.

I like the idea of that.


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I tried to get this written earlier today....oh well.
I just got home because I am taking very long walks now instead of putting up with the slowness or nothing on here.
This is quite brilliant and I hope Emily sees it for the front page.
rated with hugs
Thanks,'s really slow right now, I ought to get out walking myself.
I appreciate your compliment ! I wanted to get this out earlier today, but Youngest's project due of earthquake fault types, made out of butterscotch brownies, took over the morning... : )
I have been trying and trying to get on OS this afternoon.

This is an interesting post to say the least JT.
and says plenty about the south back then.
I bet those women did share this often.
Thanks, Mission, it's strange to even remember parts of that life now.
...and OS speed is just crappy today...thanks for persevering!
You've recreated this with such exquisite care that I am sure it is just as you say. (r)
Thanks Dirndl: I only know the basics in this story, I tried to bring it alive the best I could...I love this tale of my parents at their best.
This was a very touching story. Thanks for letting me know about it.
What a wonderful personal glimpse into a moment of history. Very well done, JT.
also: I'm glad you came by, nice to have you here, and thanks !

Thanks, Sarah, nice to see you here as well : )
I like the idea of that, too. And I like your own personal way of commemorating Dr. King and your family. It's clear both were on the same page.
I can't imagine what turmoil -- from a very practical sense, much less the emotional sense -- his death must have caused for your parents (and others). I like your last paragraph. Knowing that these women took home with them the remembrance of your family's hospitality honors Dr. King's message.
What a proud piece of personal history you've shared with us JT - thank you, for that.

An inspiring story, Just Thinking. Your parents were a generation ahead of their time. I wonder if they ever heard from any of those people again.
brilliant is the word kinda's right and poignant r.
A very personal memory... and why did no one invite them home for a meal as they traveled the country? In the South they encountered a hospitality that brought them to a family table in welcome and in an interest of cultural exchange. Any southerner can tell you that invitation to dinner is a strong tradition and seldom did a Sunday pass when there weren't extra people around our table.

In our southern home my parents traveled to Africa more than once with groups of friends and their collected funds, to build and stock rudimentary medical clinics in Uganda, Rwanda, and Kenya. We had 'dinner on the ground' with our neighboring sister church, Bethel AME, from the time I was a small child in our southern town. I went to church with The Help (great book) and Rhodelia's family welcomed me on many nights in their cozy home in our southern town. Delhia, her daughter, stayed with us the summer her father our southern town.

I guess it's apparent by now that this bothers me, "Our family lived in Atlanta, Georgia then, a family of Northerners living in the South by company transfer".

That implies something that just isn't true. My southern family life included volunteer work to benefit those of any background who were in need, and cultural exchanges with people from differing countries, neighborhoods, and faiths.

I choose to believe your parents were Northerners by accident of birth and Southern by benefit of good fortune; being in the right place, at the right time and able to extend a hand of Southern hospitality to travelers who had come so far to learn and experience our culture. The South should never be boxed into a racial archetype to be painted over the entire population because, honey ~ it just ain't so.

(I should go write my own post now, shouldn't I... ;)
I'm grateful to your parents for representing us all so well. Thank you for telling the story so beautifully.
Gabby Abby: I'm not sure where I offended you.
I have no idea why these women weren't invited into homes before, I'm not sure they'd been in the South at all before Atlanta, I'd imagine they had an official schedule with dinners given for them with speakers type of thing.
They wouldn't have been at my parent's home if Dr. King hadn't been assassinated.
"Our family lived in Atlanta, Georgia then, a family of Northerners living in the South by company transfer."
only means that my father's company transferred him to Atlanta, our family was from the North before that...
I wasn't trying to say a thing about other southerners, that is just our family's story.
I hope that clarifies, please let me know if I'm missing something else, I don't see the stereotyping in my words. I hate when anyone labels people with a broad brush, and have made that clear in many comments on many blogs, I don't want to be doing that here.
Alysa: That's the tiny silver lining I like about the only horrific tragedy of Dr. King's death..I try to remember small actions can add up for us humans. : )

Bellwether: I can only imagine how it was that day...and remember stories told. Thanks for coming by.

Thanks, Fusun, nice to see you : )
Matt: Nice hair you've got going on there!
My parents were interesting people-- they liked to get involved...and they felt Atlanta to be exciting place when they moved there in 1967.
My husband calls my family Forrest Gump-like, the experiences were, and are, so myriad. Many interesting moments have built up over the years...I'm the homebody. : )
Jon: I tried to give the feel of what I'd been told, how my parents were, with what I thought probable for that day-- thanks for that. : )
l'heure: I appreciate that so much...thanks for coming by : )
I'm not certain why you felt you needed to make the declarative statement about being from the North, and then relay a story about showing hospitality to blacks in the South. Why mention being from the North at all?

The South isn't a hot bed of bias and racism and we have lifelong relationships between blacks and whites that often go back several generations among families. Some people are out and out racists, ignorant to the bone - but you find that everywhere these days. I don't deny it exists, but the implication that Nigerians visited and no one asked them home for dinner except for the white Northern family is a little...pointed.

Our biases show themselves without our knowing it sometimes. I feel like I'm channeling my friend Lezlie right about now.
Gabby Abby: I hear what you're saying, this isn't meant to be about my Northern parents vs Southern people, nor am I showing prejudice I hope.
Maybe it's not clear that this group of women wasn't visiting all over the South, they were visiting all over the country. They weren't invited to dinner in anyone's home in our country, until by accident of a terrible tragedy, they came to my parent's house. I'm not telling a broader story than that, and I like this tale of their day together.

The identifier of them being Northern is because I feel like the Southerner that grew up in a Northern family, so it's an identifier to me, personally, that's why it's in my story, and it made a difference in my childhood that they were "Yankees" -- there were plenty of those in my parent's life who didn't appreciate their liberal attitudes at all, there were plenty of social occasions they were left out of for the same reason.
I see how for you it's coming across as a sensitive nerve. It's not meant to be, it's just the truth of it. They were new to the South, they were a Northern family living in the South by company transfer. I'm their one child raised there.
Also, there wasn't racial mingling socially in my family's world in my first few years in Atlanta, like there was in yours, not at all until years later. That's just the way of it when I was a child. This is just a personal family story, I'm not trying to tell everyone's story.

I like that you want to keep talking about it though, it's not good to color with a broad brush, I do agree, I wasn't meaning to. Is it more clear the personal details are there for my personal story, my family's experience of the South at that time?
I really like the idea.
Definitely EP material
rated with love
Aha! I knew my ears were burning for some reason. lol It seems my good friend Gabby Abby has had a War Between the States flashback. (This northern transplant has even learned not to call it The Civil War at times like this.) I understand her sensitivity completely. When one has lived her life striving to disprove a persistent stereotype, things that look or sound quite innocuous to many can feel like a declaration of war to her. It is the same thing that was at play when I wanted to shave The Donald's arrogant head for pandering to the stereotypes of women, especially African American women.

Having said that, I can tell you first hand that in 1968 a black person from the northern U.S. was terrified of traveling to a southern city. Based on my own encounter with white police officers in Jackson, Mississippi in 1964, I would never have expected to run into people like Abby's family anywhere in the South.

Very nice memory piece honoring the memory of your parents, JT.

Romantic: Thank you for that : )

Lezlie: I understand Gabby Abby too-- I thought I had a reputation around here for my vehement comments on various blogs bemoaning the labeling of all because of some...and of some feisty defenses of Southern people for the same broad generalizations.
I never knew any families like her family where we were in the sixties, or that they existed, it was very segregated in our area.
I always love your feedback, thanks for coming by... : )
A wonderful piece, JT...thank you for sharing it...I'm glad I could finally get onto OS to read it! xox
Great story. I think like is a series of "if's" and most are lost of forgotten. This will not be.
Robin: It's been dishearteningly slow, hasn't it? I'm so glad you came by...and thanks for your kind words : )
scanner: What a cool thing to say, thanks for that. This story has lasted in my family for this long...
Thank you for posting this. Rated and Faved ;)
Thank you for posting this. Rated and Faved ;)
Now it seems to me that there is some doubt that such a family might have existed in the South during those years.

If you look back in photos you will see white people marching for civil rights in southern streets and I would challenge anyone who wants to claim all those white folks came down from up North to make a show of support. The whites who did take a public stand may have been punished for it by the prejudices of the day, but they stood up anyway and it made a difference. The South we live in now is where Lezlie lives - coincidentally in Atlanta, which is a far, far cry from the Atlanta of the '60s. That is a credit to the people of the South - all of them.

Most people in this world are in the silent majority - we support a position, cause, or group, but don't hit the streets with placards, now do we? We say, "oh yes, I'm completely supportive. I believe" but we don't even stick a stamp to an envelope in active support of most of the things we actually do believe are right and true. People sit aside, watch the speeches and the marches from sofas, and silently say 'I wish them well' but we don't risk anything for the things that don't directly impact us. And even then, we don't step out of our way unless it REALLY hits us. Someone dies, our bank account is threatened, something seriously changes in our lives. Silence is the national anthem in this country. This isn't unique to the South.

George Wallace won primaries in the northern states of Maryland and Michigan where he campaigned in his 1972 presidential bid, and he was run out of the race in his second attempt in 1976 - bested by another southerner, Jimmy Carter. I'd say Mr. Carter's family was similar to ours in his view of civil rights in the '60s. His life is a testament to his commitment to equality for all people.

I'm saying this because there were so many Southern whites who believed in the rights of women and blacks back in the day. There may not have been a grand show of support b/c people have always been afflicted with the lassitude of silence, but the day Dr. King was killed was a national day of mourning in white communities all over the country, including the South. Subsequent history shows a stronger unity that emerged, people began speaking out, whites showed more open support and in the twenty years that followed, the things that frightened people dissipated.

The south forged ahead, representing more tolerant views with the electoral vote. Blacks are elected officials in every southern state. The first black governor in the nation was elected in Virginia. Blacks are well represented in civil positions in all branches of government in southern states.

The South has thrown off the racism that characterized, and possibly defined, this part of the country due to the strength and the beliefs of the majority of people who lived here, who were born here, and will die here.

Horrible acts of hatred still occur across the nation every day, but the South is no longer defined by prejudice against blacks and is a very different place today than it was 50 years ago and lingering prejudices against the South and assumptions about Southerners need to be questioned. The least segregated cities in the country are in the North according to
crap. Now I forgot what I was saying...

I was attempting to make a link to this article :
in case anyone is interested in picking up this topic and running with it in a post.

I apologize for the length of this response, but I will be traveling for the next few days and won't be around to open one of my own as a forum for the topic. Thanks for your hospitality here JT! I hope someone will keep the conversation going if it's of any interest.
I'm not sure what to say at this point Gabby Abby, clearly this story bothers you, but it's a true story that happened, it's a personal story of one day in the life of my parents.
What else can I say??
Wow. What a wonderful story in the face of a tragic event. Your were lucky to have parents like them. I tried to rate this several times and it wouldn't take. I don't know what is wrong.
PS I finally got the rating to take. Yes!
Oh my! there's nothing to say! I was just continuing to discourse on a topic I thought we were talking about. I'm sorry to have given anyone the impression that I'm a nutter on the subject. I'm happy to leave it alone and appreciated the post you put up - a priceless memory for you of a very troubled time.

Shutting up now.
Gabby, I enjoy this discourse as well, but started wondering if you were questioning it's veracity. I'm hardly the only child in Atlanta, GA in 1968 who lived in a very whitey, segregated area.
For whatever reason, this particular group of women came to the US, traveled around America, and by the tragic death of Dr. King, they ended up being treated casually and with welcome in my parent's house, the only home they entered on this tour.
It is a very cool moment in my parent's history -- it also is good for me to be inspired by my parent's good moments, as they weren't at their best as nurturing parents.
This is one day I am inspired by them.
A whole forum on the sixties and the northerners and southerners who actively fought the good fight is way beyond the scope of my tale-- sorry...
Ok, glad I am not the only one having problems getting around the site. I thought it was time to yell at my Internet provider. Secondly, this was a fascinating post about regular people stepping into a huge moment in history.
Sometimes when you read something, you are unaware at just how important it will be to you, until you finish it. Wonderful writing here, and the event, well the event was affirming. In our accidental way in life, we do many great things, out of common decency, caring and affirmation. We hardly know just how important those things can be to others, yet, sometimes we find out and are mostly amazed. Your parents were good people.
Of course they remembered, and reminisced, and made mini-folk heroes of your folks. That is not something you need simply imagine, but know in your heart happened. It is illogical to think otherwise.

One of King's statements comes to mind. "The Negro needs the white man to free him from his fear." It is still true. It can be generalized these multicultural days to include all humanity, of course, but it had a specific meaning when he said it, around the time your mother and father entertained these fine ladies, no doubt beset by existential terror and confusion when they arrived, and full of tomato soup and grace when they left.
A lovely story. I wish we all had one like this to prove our humanity.
This gave me goose bumps! You must be so proud of your parents. A well told story!!
What a wonderful family you must have been raised in. Your parents sound like people I would have enjoyed hanging around.
By the way, I liked your creative way of describing what the lunch must have been like just from knowing your parents and that kitchen.
Thanks, Ron! Nice to have you come by...

Sheba: They were very interesting folks-- I try to keep this part of them at the front of my heart : )

Rebecca: Horribly slow yesterday...I appreciate your sticking around, thanks for your kind words : )

Sheila: I appreciate that. I like that they were the type to plunge ahead spontaneously, they were good people who liked to be involved. Glad to have you come by...
extinguish: I thank you for this...glad to have you come by : )

Leon: I wish I would've been this impulsively hospitable...I'm not sure I would've. I'd have met them at their hotel and taken them to lunch instead.

Susie: I am incredibly inspired by my parents as cool people.
Knowing they weren't so generous to their own children makes a division for me, but I'm lucky to be inspired by them, and our adult relationship was very good.
They went out and did stuff I'd never try...kind of like you! My Mom daydreamed about hang gliding for her 87th birthday...(she didn't quite live that long)...
ps to susie: I mentioned your crazy adventures on bluestocking babe's OS review today... : )
Thank you for sharing this story.

BTW, I interpreted your statement about "a family of Northerners living in the South" as a bit of background description, not any statement about Northern vs. Southern culture.
bike: Hey! Glad you came by...
Thanks for that, it is just background information, and it did color my world differently while we lived in the south, but it was never meant to be a political point for the story at all. : )
Patricia: They were fun people to meet, you might've liked them for sure, most folks did....and thanks for that, I tried to stick with what I did know for certain on this story. All my posts are true, but for this story I only knew the bare bones...
JT..truely loved this. Nigeria is dear to my heart too, being so close to Sierra Leone in West Africa. I knew quite a few Nigerians. What an amazing story. I was a teen at the time of this great tragedy, having just done bake sales and car washes at our church, to be sent to our church college, to fund our students in the Selma march. My brother Jim was one of those students. He met MLK and Abernathy and was asked by the latter to offer up prayer at one of the prayer meetings. They were spit upon and had 6:00 pm curfews, enforced by men in pickup trucks, with guns. Was indeed, a crazy time. MLK, RIP.
What a great memory and story. R
Honest acts of kindness, however large or small, touch the lives of people around us, and are the things that remain in memories forever, I think. I am glad your parents invited this group of Nigerian women to their home, at a time that must have been so unsettling. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story.