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Story ID:9644
Written by:Frederick William Wickert (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:All Cities All States USA
Person:Martin Luther King
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By Fred Wickert

As a boy I grew up in an area where there were very few black people. I knew only one. After high school I went to Cornell University for a while. Black people were scarce there too. I did know a very dark skinned man from India and another from Pakistan. There was one o0ther from somewhere in Africa. All three of those were Christians and I knew them from the Methodist Youth Fellowship at Cornell University. As you can see, my knowledge and experience with black people was very limited.

After a semester and a half I dropped out of college and joined the Air Force. This was during the Korean War and it seemed the thing to do. Little did I know then the Air Force was to become my career. I was sent to Sampson Air Force Base at Geneva, New York for my basic training. There I met more black people than I had ever known in my entire life. The majority of them were from Philadelphia. At that time there was a game they played amongst themselves they called the dirty dozen’s, or just “The Dozens.” In playing this game they said some things to each other that where I live could get you killed. Strangely to me, they did it jokingly and no one displayed any anger over it.

One black guy was different from the others. He was much quieter and more mature. He was smaller in physical stature and older than the rest of us. He had done a tour in the Navy and after getting out for a few months decided to give the Air Force a try. He was appointed Guide on Bearer for our squadron. He and I became good friends and he gave wise council to me, keeping me out of trouble more than once. His name was Boatright and he was a fine man. Sadly, I never saw him again after basic training.

From Basic I went to Combat Air Police School in California for a few months. When I graduated from there I was assigned to Bolling Air Force Base at Washington, D.C. Only when I arrived at the nation’s capitol did I begin to see what it was really like in our country. Up until that time I did not have a clue. I was in for a shock.

I saw in the areas surrounding Washington, and in Washington itself, wherever trailer parks and apartment houses were, there were signs posted that said, “No Dogs, GI’s or Niggers allowed.” I could not believe my eyes. When I got back to the base I asked some of the older guys about it. Sure enough, it was real. “How can this be?” I asked. This is not possible. This is America!

I had cousins living in Baltimore. When I had a couple of days off I got on a train for a one hour ride to visit my cousins in Baltimore. Baltimore had similar signs except that GI’s were not mentioned. I also encountered public rest rooms and public drinking fountains with signs declaring “White only.” I learned black people could not use them. Where I asked, are black people supposed to go? They need to use the toilet and get a drink of water too. Then I learned that black people employed in hotels and restaurants were not allowed to use the front entrance to those places. They had to use only the rear entrance. This was all beyond my comprehension.

From Bollling where I only stayed for a few months, I was sent to Japan via ship from San Francisco.
After a couple of weeks in Japan I flew to Okinawa. I was there seven and a half months and then shipped to Korea. After another seven months in Korea I went to Japan for almost four more years. I returned to the United States with my new Japanese bride. I was driving across the country from California to New York and then from New York state to my new assignment in Orlando, Florida. I was somewhat surprised when Air Force personnel in California advised me to use caution. I was advised that mine was an inter-racial marriage and that my wife and I could be arrested if we tried to stay together in the same hotel or motel room in seven states. It was illegal in those states.

While I had been overseas for so long I had forgotten about the things I saw in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. Once in Orlando I saw it all over again. I usually drove to the base but one day for reasons I do not recall, I rode the bus. It was a city bus. When I got on the bus, a black man in uniform, and I too was in uniform, by the name of Cross was on the bus. He was standing in the middle of the bus. I greeted him when I got on, stood beside him and chatted with him. A group of people got off the bus. Seeing a number of newly vacated seats I suggested we sit down. Cross told me to go ahead, but he was not allowed to sit. I asked why not? He indicated that people of color were not allowed. That angered me. I said loudly so that every person on the bus could hear me that he served his country the same as I did, and if he was not good enough to sit on their stinking bus, then I wasn’t either. I stood with him until we got to our destination, the main gate of the base.

Later, a neighbor of mine and I had been fishing. We stopped on the way home at an ice cream stand. While we were there, two school buses drove in. Both buses were loaded with black kids on their way back from playing baseball somewhere. Each bus had one white man on it. I assume he was the coach. The drivers were black. The two white men walked up to the window of the ice cream stand and placed their orders. Each man made several trips to their bus with all the ice cream cones they could carry. I asked the guy with me, why in the world the kids don’t get off the bus and carry their own ice cream cones? My friend advised me they were not allowed to because they were black and only white people could buy from the stand. I replied that if that were me, they could keep their ice cream. I wondered why if they were not good enough, their money was good enough. It made no sense to me at all.

After nearly four years there I was selected for Presidential security at Andrews Air Force base in Maryland. Once again, the same things prevailed. My wife worked in Waldorf, Md in a restaurant that was open 24 hours a day. In Waldorf there were many restaurants and many motels. They were divided about two to one, two for whites to about one for blacks. There were barber shops where a black barber could cut a white man’s hair, but a black man could not get his hair cut there.

Martin Luther King began leading peaceful marches and making speeches. Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of a bus. A number of other things began happening. The Ku Klux Klan was extremely active. The Governor of Alabama stood in front of the doors of a university with an axe handle in his hands, leading a bunch of other thugs to deny entrance to black students. Similar things happened in Arkansas and other southern states. At a university campus in Selma, Alabama the National Guard opened fire and killed a number of people. Martin Luther King refused to back down and at the same time he refused to be violent or allow his followers to be violent.

The Republicans in Congress out voted the Democrats and passed civil rights legislation for equal rights for black people. President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill in to law. Martin Luther King, that great man who had led the charge and won, was shot and killed by an assassin. The nation mourned and many of the racist governors, senators and congressmen felt shame and remorse. Finally the nation, thanks to Dr. Martin Luther King, began to heal.

Today we have this nation’s first black president. We have a black attorney General. Previously, under white presidents we had our first black Secretary of State, first a man and then a woman. Both served with honor and distinction. We have had black congressmen and senators and black governors. We had come such a long way.

Now, with our first black president and first black attorney general, even while a black Justice of the Supreme Court serves with honor and distinction, these two are doing everything in their power to turn around and destroy all that Martin Luther King gave his life for. They are out to destroy everything MLK believed in and accomplished. These two have done more to reverse race relations in this country than anyone else has ever done. Why? I ask myself, WHY?

Martin Luther King would cry!

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