Chinua took this photo of his father on Christmas Day this year, and as I've been thinking of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I keep coming back to this picture, in my mind.
My father-in-law was born in 1943 in Alabama. His entire youth was spent in a pre-civil rights era, an era when he was made to feel as though he and his people were second-rate, or worse than second-rate. Worthless.
I've heard many stories. He told me stories of how everyone would gather at his grandmother's house and eat together, how the women cooked and sewed and crafted. These memories are warm and beautiful, and his voice rings with affection and nostalgia, remembering the gatherings. These were safe places, within the homes of family, within the circle of people who were like one another.
I've also heard stories of the other side. Late one night Chinua and his father stayed up and Ade told story after story about life in the south. He told of being stretched out and whipped. He told funny stories of the tricks they would play on their supervisors. His stories were full of tension. It wasn't a safe time.
One day I would like to write all these stories down.
And I think of this now, and how things have come around, full circle. I think of how I walk in the black neighborhoods of Detroit, and never feel anything other than safe. I think of the warmth of Chinua's family, the gatherings, and the love that I feel when I am with them.
Sometimes I think of how Chinua and I would be persecuted if we were born in another time. How if we had grown up in the South in the 40's and 50's, our story would be so different. How people like my father-in-law have persevered in rightness and have paved the way for better possibilities for their children.
I think of how it wasn't just a vision, that Martin Luther King Jr. Day is about a man who ended up dying for his beliefs, and how he encouraged the people around him to shine in their righteousness without raising a hand in their own defense. I think of those who were imprisoned, who were met with crowbars when they got off the trains, those who were hosed down like dogs. I am angry, and I am thankful.