“Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance. ”
50 years forward. What does that mean? Is it asking where we will be in 2063 or is it asking where we have come from 1963? One could argue yes for either question or would it be more prudent to see being 50 years forward as we are always changing, accepting those around us without any prejudice to race, sex, creed or orientation. There are many facets of the civil rights movement and its understanding. We as a society have always been fighting for a form of equality. There has always been some form of intense oppression throughout history. Pick anytime and the signs of serfdom, slavery or a disregard for human’s basic civil rights can be found. Is it ignorance that causes events that shackle people to happen? How do we stop people from hating someone because they are different? How do we, as a society, stop people from hurting while giving them a chance to be everything they choose and want to be?
Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 became the epicenter for the progression of the civil rights movement. The South, since the Reconstruction days, has had a tumultuous time with progression on many fronts. Since the Civil War, the nation as a whole, passed laws that freed all men while in the south the individual laws of municipalities and states hindered the progress of life. Segregation became a theme. George Wallace spoke at his 1963 gubernatorial inauguration, “In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny . . . and I say . . . segregation today . . . segregation tomorrow . . . segregation forever.” These words spoke to a great number of people that heard it. Not just in the south but the nation as a whole. A line was drawn in the sand and Alabama was the one who drew it. There was a great divide in the nation. Some people turned a blind eye towards it. Others stood their ground and participated on either keeping the “south alive” or for the rights that God gave them. All the Jim Crow laws, the lynchings, the hate speech, it all led to a man, a man powerful enough to let everyone know of his dream. Dr. Martin Luther King rallied this nation to see the oppression being leveled against a population of the nation. Dr. King did this without ever raising his hand. He spoke of peace. Peace for all. However, this peace was not without loss. Many people died or were wrongly accused and jailed for crimes they didn’t commit while defending these basic rights of men. This peace was hard fought for men and women saying enough is enough. We are all created as one. We are all equal. The movement to see men as men regardless of the color of skin led into the rights of women and equal pay and rights as men. This transitioned into rights of gays and lesbians allowing us to accept anyone whom we love and not be discriminated for it. Sadly though, these rights are still being fought for by those still being discriminated against. We as a nation took a bold leap 50 years ago and have slowly been taking giant steps for the rights of others. We cannot falter or waiver on our morals. We must always look past what is different to us and accept that it might not be different for our neighbor. At our core we are and will always be human beings. Human beings who will fight for the right to live in peace. To be accepted by our peers. To achieve the greatness within. It’s our turn to continue striving for a better tomorrow. A tomorrow allowing us to be who we truly are without worrying if we will be bullied or discriminated against because of a perceived difference from the normalcy of life.
What does it mean to be 50 years forward? It means being able to look at your neighbor as you look at yourself, accepting them for their uniqueness and originality. It means many things to those who ask the question. Whatever your reason, find your voice. Own who you are and stand shoulder to shoulder with your neighbor in solidarity. Be proud to say “I’m 50 years forward. Are you?”
It’s every boys dream as a child to be “that man”. That man who changes everything. This is especially true when it comes to sports. Whether it’s a buzzer beater in the NBA championship game or the make that winning pass/catch in the Super Bowl as the clock winds down to zero. There isn’t a ball park you will walk by were you wouldn’t hear a young boy say “Jonny steps back up to the plate. Bottom of the 9th here folks and the bases are loaded. This is it. This is for the entire season. 2 outs, 3 balls and 2 strikes. Game seven of the World Series and its all comes down to this. Jonny stares the pitcher down as he looks at flashing bulbs go off in the roaring stadium. He stands there taking in the glamour of this great game. Jonny keeps the bat on his shoulder and.. I DONT BELIEVE IT!!! Jonny is pointing. He’s pointing to where he says the ball is going to go. Jonny steps into position. The pitcher throws a mean curve and… CRACK!!! WE WILL SEE YOU LATER!!! THE CROWD GOES WILD!!!! Jonny just hit a Grand Slam home run. WE WIN!!! We win the World Series!!!!”
There have been many greats in the game of baseball. Shoeless Joe Jackson, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson. All of which captured our hearts, the spirit and the love of Americas Pastime. Baseball has always been one of those sports that transcended cultures. Young and old, rich and poor, black and white. It was accessible to watch and it was the first time when we saw giants emerge out of sports to become heroes. Just because it transcended cultures didn’t mean that it wasnt integrated. You have the MLB which was the white league and you had the NLB which was the negro leauge. Both leagues had outstanding talent and players but it wasnt until 1951 that those leagues began to merge with the inclusion of number 42, Jackie Robinson to the New York Giants. This shook the world. It wasnt the first time a black player played in professional sports in a segregated league but it was the first time on the scale as large as the MLB. People hated it. They booed it but as the game went on people began to cheer. It brought the game closer than it had ever been before.
April 13, 1954. A young man from Mobile, Alabama stepped to the plate for the first time in Milwaukee. It had been two years since baseball had started it desegregation. Little did this young man know he was about to be in pursuit of history and help change the course of play for baseball. Hank Aaron didn’t have the best game as his first. Actually it was a horrible outing as he went 0-5. That start however, bad as it was, ended up being something special as Hank went on to be 3rd in hits with a total of 3771. Though as many hits has he had it was the ones that every fan loves to see and cheer for that he became known for. The Home Run. Hank Aaron was a player. He holds high marks in almost all categories of the game of baseball. He was a Slugger, he was on base, he hit the ball and when he hit the ball it went out of the park. People cheered for him as they saw ball after ball wail past the fence. Year after year. He is the only player in history to hit 30 or more home runs in 15 seasons and 40 home runs or more for 7 consecutive seasons. The more he hit the more people cheered then he started to chase numbers. It seems that everything is okay if you play well until you chase legends. First came surpassing Yankee’s legend Mickie Mantle on July 31, 1969 with his 537th home run. He was now in third all time behind Willie Mays and Babe Ruth. After surpassing Mays in the strike shortened season of 1972 people realized that with the consistent numbers he was putting up he could surpass the King of Baseball.
Like a wild-fire rushing through the forest, Hank Aaron rapidly approached the magic number held for so long by Ruth, 714. It took to the last game of the season for Aaron to pull within a run of Ruth. This was not an easy task. The turmoil of the 50’s and 60’s have passed but in the belly of America still stood this hatred. This was 1973 heading into 1974. We stood at a breaking point in society where we had put a man on the moon, the Vietnam War was over and the Civil Rights movement had brought laws of equality to this great nation. Sadly, we witnessed something else entirely. There was a mentality that no black man should ever eclipse “The Babe”. Aaron started to fear for his life. He was receiving death threats daily just not for himself but for his family as well. At the start of the 74′ season Hank needed just one run to tie Ruth. Aaron, still with the Braves but having moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta in the 60’s, was in the heart of the South and still being riddled with hate mail and bigotry. Even through the bigotry, Hank Aaron received an out pouring of support from fans. When Atlanta returned home from its 3 game opening away games in Cincinnati. The pressure was on. Not only was Aaron one home run away from surpassing the great Babe Ruth but he was under surmounting pressure from racist and hate mongers to quit. He was still receiving death threats up to the point of the start of the game. On April 8, 1974, in the bottom of the fourth, Hank Aaron stepped up to the plate. Stronger than any man before him he cracked the pitch over the wall nearly braking the outfielder in two as he reached for the ball. As he was rounding the bases the most amazing thing happened, two white college students ran onto the field as Aaron was rounding second base. At first he was startled because of the death threats but then the two men patted him on his back and rounded the bases with him, congratulating him on the way to home plate. At this moment all fears, all hate, all differences disappeared and the baseball world and America became one. This moment in time, forever captured on film, showed what we have become. What we can become and aspire to be. This was when we stopped seeing men as black and white and started seeing men as men. 715 is a number that will remain in our hearts forever. This is the number that changed the way we see sports and the ascension of heroes.
February 5, 1934, Hank Aaron came into this world just outside of Mobile, Alabama. He is an icon today but became an icon 50 years ago. He help transcend how we view achievements and greatness of all men.
We take many things for granted today. Cell phones. Facebook. The Superbowl. We sit comfortably in our homes watching sitcoms with our families and friends at night. Going to see movies with our loved ones while sharing a bag of popcorn. We look next to us and see unfamiliar faces that are familiar because we live in a time when it doesn’t matter who sits next to you. We all have the opportunity to hail a cab or catch the next flight to New York. The only thing that may cause us grief is that we have to wait too long in the security line at the air port. If you are lucky you can strike up a pleasant conversation with the person next to you otherwise its to your cell phone to check on the latest post of your favorite person on Facebook. In 1955, this wasn’t the case. We had separate bathrooms, entrances, water fountains and waiting areas for those that were anyone other than white. The only time you talked to a “colored person” as a “white person” was when they were telling them what to do. Times were different and public transportation was as equally segregated as the ways of life throughout most of the country but was heavily prominent in the south. As with today the bus was the main form of public transpiration in cities however one could not just sit were they liked. There was a “colored section” and a “whites section”. For ease of access and because it was thought that whites were a higher class than blacks, they sat in the front while the rest sat in the back. Much like going to a restaurant at the time, if you were black you did not walk in the front, there was a rear entrance in which no one could see you come in. Equality among all men was not something that was seen or practiced at this time. It was only in the hearts a large minority but would begin to boil over on a cold December day.
December 1, 1955 was a day like many others in the city of Montgomery, Alabama. It began as any other day began with people going to work, running errands, and going about a normal life. This day however, did more than end normally, it started a fire that could not be quelled. Around the six o’clock hour that evening, a young woman waited for a bus to take her home from work. She paid her fare, and chose her seat like she did every other day. She waited patiently on the ride home as the bus began to fill. As the trip continued on, the bus became more crowded. During a frequent stop along the route, the bus driver stood up and walked back to the rear of the bus moving the “colored section” sign back one row. This action was like stabbing a knife through the heart of ones soul. This young woman and her family had been harassed her entire life. Whether if was living in fear of the Klu Klux Klan or just the knowledge that you were looked upon as a second class citizen, she knew this was wrong and was finally too much for her to bear. She and 3 others on this row were asked to stand the rest of bus ride so the new “white” passengers could have a place to sit. As the row emptied for the new passengers, a young girl chose that this was the time to stand up and do the right thing for not only herself but for those who just stood up to move. Instead of standing up from her isle seat, she slid over to the window seat. In defiance of the bus driver and a law that was passed in 1900 to segregate passengers, Rosa Parks became an icon for a generation and further. She did not get to keep her seat. The bus driver had called the police and they arrested her. Rosa Parks, however, gained a greater seat than the one she refused to give away. She became the “mother of the civil rights movement.” She wasn’t the first to defy the law but what she said, by just sliding over, was the loudest. She lived to see the Civil Right movement through to almost it most fulfilling moment. Seeing the hatred and pain of a section of the nation she was born into pass before our eyes. One would believe she, like so many others, would have wept tears of joy to see the first black President of the United States of America. On February 4, 1913, 100 years to this day, Rosa Parks was born to this world in Tuskegee, Alabama. She was born in a nation were all men were not equal but died in one were they are. She may have been born to Alabama but she helped raise a nation to a higher place. Thank you Rosa Parks for what you did and Happy Birthday! To see the value of 100 years and how this great nation has changed.
“You have to remember, rights don’t come in groups we shouldn’t have ‘gay rights’; rights come as individuals, and we wouldn’t have this major debate going on. It would be behavior that would count, not what person belongs to what group.”
― Ron Paul