Tag Archives: Delaware

Welcome to the Future

I don’t pretend to know all that happened with the Supremes and The Voting Rights Act today.
This is not the go-to blog for your sound-bite legal analysis in that regard, kids. I confess, this is a little over my head.
But I hear Voting Rights and I think Dabney Montgomery.
I think of his words, the ones he shared with our Unitarian Universalist congregation in Delaware, back on February 14, 2010.
I read them again today.

So then. An encore post from February 16, 2010.

Living History (or, Spending Valentine’s Day in the Presence of Greatness)

Dabney Montgomery and Henry L. Smith,
two former Tuskegee Airmen who I met on Valentine’s Day morning

“And I stood in the corner and thought, how can I change this situation peacefully? And that thought stayed in the back of my mind for many a month and year.”

~ Dabney Montgomery, Tuskegee Airman and bodyguard of Martin Luther King Jr., 2/14/2010

Walking into church on Sunday morning, Valentine’s Day, was like taking a walk back in time.

A walk alongside Martin Luther King Jr., en route from Selma to Montgomery.

A walk along the tarmac with the Tuskegee Airmen.

I knew that this particular service, commemorating Black History Month, was on the schedule, but I had forgotten that it was planned for Valentine’s Day.

And so it was that I found myself in the presence of greatness.

Dabney Montgomery, a Tuskegee Airman and former bodyguard of Martin Luther King Jr.’s, was the guest speaker on Sunday at our Unitarian Universalist congregation. Of the 5,000 Tuskegee Airmen, there are only 280 still alive.

“And you have two of them with you today,” he said, indicating himself and nodding to Henry L. Smith, seated in the audience.

We listened, a rapt audience of nearly 200, as Dabney Montgomery told us about a time where people believed African Americans were incapable of flying a plane.

When people believed they could not be taught such skills, because they believed that the arteries in their brains were shorter than in other people’s brains.

We walked with Dabney Montgomery down the tarmac, as he recalled Mrs. Roosevelt (“you remember Mrs. Roosevelt, don’t you?”) demanding to be flown by an African American pilot.

He received an honorable discharge from the Army in 1945, and upon returning home to his hometown of Selma, Alabama, he only had one thing on his mind.

Registering to vote.

We walked with Dabney Montgomery as he went to register to vote, and was told to go around back and enter through the back entrance, as he was handed three separate applications to vote. The applications needed to be filled out by three separate white men who could vouch for his character.

“Not only was I black,” Mr. Montgomery said by way of explanation, but I “didn’t have enough money in the bank [to vote], didn’t have a house.”

“And I stood in the corner and thought, ‘how I can change this situation peacefully?’ And that thought stayed in the back of my mind for many a month and a year,” he said.

Dabney Montgomery volunteered to be one of Martin Luther King’s bodyguards on the historic Selma to Montgomery March in 1965.

We felt the spit from onlookers as the marchers walked by.

“After the march, I took the soles off the shoes I wore,” Dabney Montgomery explained. “You can see them for yourself in the back, there.”

Several months after that march, The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed.

We walked back into the room with Dabney Montgomery as he registered to vote.

“And this time, there was a black woman behind the desk,” he laughed.

And then he turned serious again.

Whatever the situation is, “it can be changed through nonviolence, but you must stand and never give in. Don’t compromise. [We need] nonviolence not only in the schools, but in the home,” he said, referencing recent bullying attacks and the shooting by a professor in Alabama.

“Nonviolence is a must if we are to survive,” Dabney Montgomery concluded.

We’ll walk hand in hand someday …” we sang, as the closing hymn, and as we joined hands and I reached for the African-American man’s hand next to me, I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. (I hate crying in public, but in this case, I wasn’t alone.)

Afterward, I was chatting with people I hadn’t seen in months as my 8 year old daughter Betty rushed through the door.

“Look, Mommy, they have cake!” she exclaimed, pointing to the refreshments.

“We can have cake,” I said, “But first, there’s somebody who I want you to meet.”

I told Betty that I wanted her to shake this man’s hand and thank him for his service to our country. That she would understand why when she was older.

We approached the throng of people surrounding Dabney Montgomery, taking photos with him as if he was a movie star. He welcomed all of this, even basked in the attention.

What does one say to such a hero? I thought.

“Your words were so inspiring,” I said. “Thank you for your service to our country. It is a real pleasure and honor to meet you.”

“Thank you,” Mr. Montgomery replied. A former ballet student, he bent down and shook Betty’s outstretched hand. And then, we all ate cake.

I went to church on Sunday seeking a spiritual boost.

But what I got was so much more.

“Hey, so many things I never thought I’d see
Happening right in front of me
I had a friend in school
Running back on a football team
They burned a cross in his front yard
For asking out the home coming queen
I thought about him today
And everybody who’s seen what he’s seen
From a woman on a bus
To a man with a dream
Hey, wake up Martin Luther
Welcome to the future
Hey, glory, glory, hallelujah
Welcome to the future …”
“Welcome to the Future” ~ Brad Paisley
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Many Happy Returns

An encore post from November 4, 2010 until I can get my very sleepy, nowhere near caffeinated enough thoughts together about last night’s election results  (hint: I’m smiling) and the election in general. 

My mom’s backyard, Easter 2010

My adopted state [Delaware] has a post-Election Day tradition that I absolutely love: Return Day.

From my admittedly limited newcomer understanding, it dates back to the 18th century, when  political foes agree to bury the hatchet (literally) after a hard-fought political campaign season.

And indeed, that’s exactly what they do.  There’s a “hatchet toss” and speeches and a parade where former rivals ride together in carriages straight out of Cinderella.  Despite the awkward feelings and emotions that such a day can dredge up, Return Day is reportedly a very dignified, civil, respectful kind of day.

I say “reportedly” because I’ve never been to Return Day, which is today (and it is pouring rain), so what I know about it comes to me secondhand from coworkers who have been there and news accounts of this unusual post-election tradition.

Still, I just love the concept of extending the olive branch to former rivals (political or otherwise) and that there is a specific day to do so.  I am the sort of person who likes to – no, kind of needs to – remain in contact with and on speaking terms with everyone I’ve ever said hello to in my life.  I think it’s because of a need to have people in one’s life who knew you once upon a time, in a different incarnation, when you were being formed into the person you would become.

But that’s not how everyone is.  Most people, I think, seem to have a “live and let live” mentality and can happily go the rest of their days living with calcified grudges.

I’m sure we can all think of someone who we’d like to extend an olive branch to, someone who we need to make amends with.  Once upon a time, I needed to do this.  A complicated and rocky relationship was made so by issues that we didn’t quite know how best to navigate under the circumstances we found ourselves in.  In hindsight, it wasn’t our fault and from the vantage point of perspective, I know now that we were just doing the best we could.

So there was the inevitable falling out and years of silence, and then a life-changing “shit, life’s way too short for this bullshit” kind of experience where I extended the olive branch. All I wanted was to say thank you – for being there, for doing the best one could.  I was scared to death to do so.

In this particular case, the olive branch was received and accepted.  I believe my message of gratitude was heard. I will forever be grateful for that, even though a second falling out eventually occurred and remains to this day. (You might say that based on this post a second olive branch should be extended. Perhaps.  But this one isn’t mine to offer.)

Still, there aren’t any regrets, about any of it.

Just a sense of peace in return. 

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