It is Martin Luther King Day. In my mind a tribute not only to Dr. King but to his race and to their struggle. The day of his assassination--April 4, 1968--the blue-eyed soul and "beach music" band I was in was to play a gig in Greenville, SC. We got into town about the same time of King's assassination--6pm.
The event was canceled, as many municipalities enforced curfews in an effort to keep down the rioting of the enraged. We turned around and came home, worried about what would be happening at home and worried that we could find an open gas station when needed. When we arrived, travelling I-85 the whole way, all the interstate exits were closed and guarded by National Guardsmen. Nobody in. Nobody out.
My Town has a strong black community, is home to a historically black university and in the old days was a hotbed of Negro Capitalism, and is to this day. There was an area downtown known around the country as "The Black Wall Street". This is all to say that Durham had and has an active civil rights community and there would be great and understandable outrage leading to...to what?
We could hear sirens in the distance. We tried several exits, telling the obviously scared as hell Guardsmen we lived here and just wanted to go home. No. As I lived very close to the interstate and was the closest to drop off as we came in to town, it was decided we'd pull over near the exit nearest my home, I would get out and walk home. The others, who did not live near the interstate, finally ended up being allowed to park on one of the exits to wait till sunrise, when the curfew would be lifted until sunset.
The point of telling you this story? Not sure, but if you were young in the 60's, your Civics class was in session 24/7.
Relating this to you reminds me of another civil rights memory from my youth; this one certainly more humorous. But serious. I mentioned above that My Town is home to a historically black university, North Carolina Central University, part of the UNC educational system. Traditionally they have been famous for (among other things) The Sound Machine Marching Band. In the classic black marching band style, these musicians rock.
Now, back in the 60's and in to the early 70's the KKK would periodically hold marches through downtown Durham. I attended one strictly as an observer and saw as cool and courageous a civil rights statement as I would ever see. The march began just east of the post office on Chapel Hill Street. The area was awash with KKK supporters, civil rights protesters and goofballs like me who just wanted to see the spectacle. The goofballs certainly got their spectacle.
As the march began, just past the post office, out from a side street came the Drum Major of the Sound Machine. Alone and dressed in the fine regalia of his high position. Holding the long golden staff all drum majors flaunt. He was elegant in his white uniform that was as beautifully fitted as any military uniform worn by any movie star on the silver screen during the 1940's and beyond.
The Drum Major ran ahead of the several police motorcycles that lead the procession and took his place as the "director" of the ill-begotten march. Struttin'. Blowin' the whistle literally and figuratively.
Making as creative and dramatic a statement as I have ever seen. He was fantastic, his march so fine that his knees almost touched his chin each time he took a step forward. Tall and elegant. Beautiful in his righteousness. I think I remember him turning his head toward the following Klansmen and yelling "come on, fools, keep up!"
He lead the Klan (who had no idea how to respond) all the way to Five Points (a major downtown area where five streets crossed). I followed all the way and can confirm that 2/3 of the gathered crowd along the route were laughing and applauding the DM. The goofballs and the civil rights protesters enjoyed the march immensely. The Klan and their followers had a more subdued day.