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Volume 16, Issue 3 - January 17 - January 23, 2008


Chesapeake Country: Not Yet Overcoming

Forty years since Dr. King’s death, some still see in black and white

by Michelle Steel

“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 have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

“And when this happens … when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing … Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1968

Over 40 years later … I thought we’d be there by now.

Even in Chesapeake Country, we have not all joined hands.

Among the many blessings of life in Chesapeake Country are close-knit communities.

Yet our camaraderie is not color-blind.

My mother grew up in a time where bathrooms, buses, schools and restaurants were segregated. She couldn’t play with colored children. They lived on one side of town; she lived on the other. An invisible dividing line of hatred separated white from black.

Living in a society where unspoken truths were better left unspoken, my mother learned from her mother to cross the line. She raised her children with love and respect for all of God’s children.

She brought me up to treat everyone the same, no matter the color of their skin. I married a man with the same values. We taught our boys to respect all people and cultures. In Montessori schools from an early age, they learned to respect all living things and appreciate the beauty of different cultures. Learning side by side with children from Pakistan, Africa, China and Korea, my boys heard languages and music, tasted foods and discovered crafts from many different countries.

So I’m shocked when I meet neighbors who still — 40 years after Dr. King’s assassination — look at color rather than character. And meet them I do.

When my family moved to Calvert County, my boys enjoyed visiting the local trading card store. We stopped when I noticed a manager suspiciously eyeing any person of color, mumbling under his breath about them taking over our county.

What’d he say? my young boys asked. Before I went back, the shop went out of business.

A county barber born in 1928 still lives in that era. He cuts the hair of only whites and orders nonwhites out his shop.

My white friend and her black boyfriend were harassed as they chatted in a parking lot after a dinner date. A white police officer said he wanted to be certain that the man she was with was her date. When she insisted the black man was indeed her boyfriend, the officer rolled his eyes in disgust.

Guys at the hunting store joke about selling you a gun for protection if you venture into Prince George’s County.

Glares, then uncomfortable silence, fill the room when I, a white woman, dine with a black friend. Now, we often dine at a Mexican restaurant where our friendship is accepted.

When I babysat for an African family, I got used to stares and double-takes.

I’ve even read a handmade sign, posted outside a store in Chesapeake Beach, inviting whites to unite against other races.

Forty years later, Chesapeake Country is far from the day when Martin Luther King’s dreams come true.

Writer Michelle Steel is a retired Montessori teacher living in Chesapeake Beach. She last reflected in The Taste of Thanksgiving [Vol. 15, Issue 46; Nov. 15, 2007].

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