By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
I wasn’t in Frankfort on March 5, 1964, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy, and Jackie Robinson led 10,000 on a march to the state Capitol in support of a public accommodations law.
But a few months later, I stood in front of the “Music Hall,” site of the Glasgow Junior High School located on a street named Liberty, and watched black kids “walk up the hill” of College Street on the first day of integrated schools in Glasgow.
Race has played a very important part in my life and how I view my country and its history, influencing my social and political attitudes, my view of the world and me.
So, on March 5, 2014, I stood outside the Capitol and watched perhaps 4,000 march to the Capitol in celebration of the 50th anniversary of that first march. I talked to Karen A. Coleman, an African-American woman swaying to the rhythms of a spiritual coming from the loud speakers. She was there 50 years ago as an eight-year old young girl. This time she held a sign: “We shall not be moved.”
But I was.
I remembered Rex Bailey, Nate Mills, Rondall Buford, Larry Huffman and Harry Francis, black kids who showed me 50 years ago what real courage and dignity look like. I thought of Braxton Crenshaw back there in Glasgow High School. He’s brother to Jesse Crenshaw, sponsor of a bill to restore voting rights for ex-felons, a bill for which many in the crowd Wednesday — including Civil Rights warrior Georgia Davis Powers who helped organize the first march — came to demand passage.
I made myself remember those days in 1964 in Glasgow — the anxieties about the unknown, the hateful, ignorant assumptions some on both sides carried in their hearts — just so I could appreciate “what a difference 50 years make,” as master of ceremonies Raoul Cunningham put it. I looked around and saw close friends of color, people an aging white man like I am now would never have known 50 years ago the way I know them now.
I said a silent prayer of thanks because my children don’t see race as a division as we did at their ages. I was thankful my country has come far enough that it can twice elect a black man president and a southern, conservative Republican Senator from Kentucky can actively reach out to African-Americans for support.
I felt admiration for Republican state Rep. Jeff Hoover who co-sponsored Crenshaw’s bill and who came to speak about what his Christian faith tells him about fairness and forgiveness. I thought about how much people of color have to forgive and how surprisingly willing most of them are to offer that forgiveness. They are better than I would be if our places were exchanged.
Later, I spoke briefly with Powers, now 90, after she addressed the Republican Senate where she once served, telling them to pass Crenshaw’s bill in its original form. I saw her grace and dignity, saw her determination as she looked senators square in the eye and told them to pass the bill.
I didn’t tell her my memories of things I heard some people say about her back there in the 1960s. I didn’t tell her I hadn’t seen even on Senator from the party of Abraham Lincoln at the rally. I didn’t even tell her how important it was for me to be there Wednesday.
I just told her I was happy to meet her and grateful for those brave enough to make trouble on the right side of history.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.