Hey Lady wants to talk to you about Martin Luther King, Jr.
This is a guest MLK Day post from your grandmother, my mother, who you call ‘Hey Lady.’ You call her Hey Lady because I called her Hey Lady because I thought Jerry Lewis was funny when I was a kid. Today, I like watching you yell, “HEY, HEY LADY!” and confusing the crap out of your teachers because why are you yelling at some poor woman whose name you don’t know? Ah, my warped sense of humor is the gift that keeps on giving.
Anyhow, after reading MY post about a kinder, gentler Martin Luther King, Jr. story for the kids, she wanted to tell her own. Let’s just say my mother has never been one for sugar-coating …
My Dear Amsden,
When I was your age in 1960, in Birmingham, Alabama, it was a treat for my brother and I to accompany our mother when she went into town.
We looked forward to going to Egg-A-Day which was a kind of indoor farmer’s market but more structured. It looked like a grocery store in the front but there were lots of fresh fruit and vegetables in the back. Kenny and I rarely went to the back. We were far more interested in the cheap toys or the delicious pulled pork barbeque sandwiches.
We loved those sandwiches! The soft, white bread buns were so fresh and the sauce was so good. Best of all, we could afford them. They were five for a dollar!
My brother and I always got two each and there was one for my mother – and we were looking greedily at hers! Not because we were hungry, but because we were always competing for my mother’s affection. She was a wonderful momma.
Sometimes she let the greedy horrible two eat her sandwich, but she had to make sure the halves were equal…
Being the baby of the family – at that time –my mother and brother held each one of my hands on these little trips. I was in the middle (a coveted spot in my mind) and I was close to my mother. Life was grand … for a few blocks.
Just before we entered the first store, my brother and I had to change places. Now he was in the middle and I was on the outside. Proof positive that HE was her favorite. I was too sad for tears, so I didn’t say anything about it. Ever.
I was an adult before I understood. Slavery was long abolished but there were other ways to enslave. Chain gangs. Convict leasing. Black men (and sometimes women) were arrested and imprisoned for minor crimes, like crossing the street improperly.
One day I overheard the grown folks talking about an incident at the local department store. A black woman stood outside the men’s restroom where her very young son went in to use the restroom. After some time, she began to worry that perhaps he was ill and decided to ask the next man to check on her son.
The adults began to cry and moan as they attempted to convey the events after. Lots of broken sentences and sobs.
What are they saying? I was so confused … I don’t know what it means that “they cut out his jewels.”
My mother had an awful choice to make each time we went into a store.
A little black boy pocketing a piece of gum was one of those crimes that could change his life forever. A white person saying that he stole something, whether he did or not, could change his life forever.
If she was holding one of my brother’s hand and I was holding the other it would be pretty clear where his little hands were. And hopefully we would escape unwanted attention.
I would have held his hand tighter if I had known I was protecting him.
All too soon the stories your mother will share with you will be more serious than Santa or the Easter Bunny. My grandmother in Midway, Wilcox County, Alabama had those thoughts about her first born son, Napoleon Bonaparte, and my mother had those same thoughts about her first born son, Kenneth Raye.
Yes. This is an awful lot to take in. But I want you to know just how much Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wanted America to live up to it’s promise.
And how much all the mothers in this family want you to live up to yours.