Sunday, February 26, 2006

Response to thoughts about Detroit and 1967

Writer’s Note: The following is the text of an e-mail from a total stranger concerning the submitted piece published today (Feb. 26) in the Dallas Morning News’ Collin County Opinions section, which you find that was blogged here earlier this week.
“Good Morning, Mr. Bloom,
I don’t usually make a habit of writing to DMS columnists, but your piece in this morning’s DMN Collin County Opinions was superb. Perhaps it’s a result of getting older (47) and succumbing to the inevitable waves of nostalgia, but certainly the summers of ‘67 and ‘68 were fundamental in the formation of my own outlook on the world. Vietnam, Walter Cronkite announcing the day’s body counts on the CBS Evening News, the assassinations of MLK, Jr. and Sen. Robert Kennedy, the riots in Detroit and LA … I mean, which do you select for the ‘ay that changed everything?’
You’ll see that I mentioned those times in Detroit during a piece I wrote after taking my nephew to Detroit to pay our respects to Rosa Parks. Never one for “spiritual” moments, even as a preacher’s kid, but if ever there was one, that was it. Thanks for sharing your own experience with us this morning. It was much appreciated!”

My nephew Michael and I traveled to Detroit just the other day. He’s 22 years old, in his first year at Loyola Law, and a New Orleans hurricane evacuee. Katrina’s wrath brought pain and suffering to all of us; yet one of those hidden blessings has been the opportunity to spend more time with the only son of my beloved sister, Kim, may she rest in peace.
Our journey north to pay our respects to Rosa Parks was transcendent. I can remember well traveling with my own family to see other relatives in Detroit during the summer of 1968. My nephew was as shaken as I to see the vast areas of the city that remain devastated by the historic riots of 1967. We discussed Vietnam, and the debate that raged over America’s involvement at the time. I described the twinge of fear we felt as my parents, sisters and I picked our way amongst the fire-ravaged blocks to the relatively unscathed street where our relatives lived.
You see, back then black families did not have the option of stopping at the nearest Courtyard or Hampton Inn for the night. Travels had to be planned based on a network of friends and family who could provide safety and shelter from Point A to Point B. Somewhat like the Underground Railroad that had transported so many to “freedom” in the North, I mused.
We both felt the deep respect, admiration and love for this tiny woman, Rosa Parks. It was everywhere around us as we waited our turn to file past a legend’s remains. My heart swelled as we chatted with what I would call “old church ladies” both in front and behind us. It was so obvious that as they looked at us - an African American business owner, and Michael, an African-American law student - in some way our success made the sacrifices they and many others made “back in the day” worthwhile. We, and many others surrounding us, exemplified the freedom Rosa Parks gave all Americans on that December day back in 1955.
Four days after our return to the trials (no pun intended) and tribulations of every day life, I continue to see example after example of what to me represents a major shift in the American psyche. Others of my age have described the same internal tug they felt; the overwhelming urge to “go to Mother Rosa, and take a young person with you.”
Call it evolution, call it intelligent design, call it fate, call it destiny, call it the hand of a higher power … I’m personally convinced that Rosa Parks was sent here for a purpose and, whether she knew it, planned it or simply found herself in the wrong place at the right time; this diminutive and gracious lady took a seat for justice and the basic dignity of all human beings. Faced with such humility and grace, our nation could not help but recoil in disgust at the fundamental evil that reigned under the guise of post-Reconstruction Jim Crow laws.
When a private citizen is celebrated and mourned country-wide, is the first female non-military, non-governmental citizen to lie in state in our nation’s Capitol (legislated by both houses , almost overnight it seems!) and whose funeral services take seven hours to complete, you’d have to be pretty narrow minded to ignore the implications of that citizen’s legacy.
What most effectively “made the case” for my nephew and I? When a friend and business colleague from the Detroit area described the thousands of Americans who came out to line the streets of nighttime Detroit (not the friendliest environs in broad daylight). From Greater Grace Temple to Woodlawn Cemetery, my friend Gary noted that as the funeral procession passed by, the crowds spontaneously broke out in a wailing cry of “Rosa … Rosa.”
To this day, he can’t say whether it was the moaning of grieving souls, or the unbidden praise of a grateful people acknowledging one of their greatest queens. He just said it was eerie. It made my nephew and I very glad we were there to bear witness to what could be, once again, the birth of a new nation.
My father, a Methodist minister, always gave people pause when he named 1960’s singer-songwriter Bob Dylan as a modern day prophet. For me, personally, it was less a matter of whether that was an accurate statement, than an issue involving my seeming inability to make out a single word of Bob’s lyrics! One of Dad’s personal favorites (later to become a mantra for the political, economic and cultural upheaval of the 60’s) was, “... for the times, they are a’changing.”
I think both old Dad and Bob Dylan had it right.
All the best to you and yours this Thanksgiving.

Ivan Bullock
Plano, Texas

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