Saturday, 8 November 2008
We Stand On The Brink....
5th November 2008: Adelaide, South Australia
And so it came to pass.
As I watched the excitement, the elation, the relief, the emotion,
I was overtaken by something completely different.
'I have a dream.'
I was 7 years old when I lived in New Haven Connecticut in 1968. I was an Australian kid on sabbatical with her family in the midst of one of the most turbulent times in American history. We arrived in the country in the week that Martin Luther King was assassinated. He was 39 years old.
From my childish perspective I remember only a few vivid things. We were staying in a hotel until we could find a house and because of this, when my father was scheduled to attend a conference in Washington we all went, as a family, on a Greyhound bus. We arrived late afternoon and were taken directly to another hotel at around 5pm. My mother recalls that there was a 4pm curfew (I thought it was 6pm but I was only seven at the time so we'll trust her recollections) and there was no food in the hotel so my father had to negotiate with a shop or something a few doors up the street and wrangle some bread rolls for us, as the military police were patrolling the streets.
I vividly remember the army jeeps and the soldiers with machine guns on their hips. I think it was vaguely exciting and certainly there was a sense of being in the middle of something 'big'. My mother's recollections include the fear inherent in walking the streets as a white woman with two little girls. Everything was within walking distance from the hotel and so we walked to the Smithsonian Institute and other typical tourist spots during the day when my father was at the conference. Mum remembers the black Americans sitting in doorways and on steps, glaring at her as she walked past. Washington was in the grip of the race riots.
I remember the funeral of Martin Luther King on television; I remember his perfect dark face framed by the soft gathered silk of the coffin lining; I remember my mother explaining why he was important and why he was dead; I remember her pointing out a young, sharp faced man in the front rows of the pews and exclaiming 'That's President Kennedy's brother.'
Speaking about it now, she doesn't have a clear memory of the time that she told me these things, things which would shape my thinking for years to come. She explained how painful the funeral must have been for Senator Kennedy as his brother had also been shot dead some five years before. How did my seven year old mind take in so much violence? At seven does the US become 'that place where great men are shot dead'?
Certainly this idea was to be reinforced months later as an assassin's bullet also found Bobby Kennedy. I remember watching it on TV; I remember walking to school and seeing a large chalk heart drawn on the pavement with the words 'Pray for Bobby' scrawled within. Another 'people's champion' fell. What kind of country does that? I don't think anyone told me about Abraham Lincoln at that stage. I think that came later.
So when I see Barack Obama and his family emerge triumphantly onto the walkway as President and First Family-elect, my heart is filled with foreboding. I can't help it; I am a child of the sixties.
God Bless you America for actually doing it. God Bless all of you who got up off your backsides and made a difference. It is time for a change. Is it a coincidence that this year is the 40th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King? Could he ever have imagined that 40 years hence there would be an African American waiting in the White House wings?
All I can pray is that the Security service is on its toes.