Initially, I thought about an essay on Martin Luther King, Jr. It was going to be pithy. I was going to talk about the man who planted the seeds for a generational shift. Looking back on that original draft, it was way too half-assed.
But then, in doing some research, I came across this:
IT shall be unlawful for any amateur white baseball team to play baseball on any vacant lot or baseball diamond within two blocks of a playground devoted to the Negro race, and it shall be unlawful for any amateur colored baseball team to play baseball in any vacant lot or baseball diamond within two blocks of any playground devoted to the white race.
The officer in charge shall not bury, or allow to be buried, any colored persons upon ground set apart or used for the burial of white persons.
Any person. who shall be guilty of printing, publishing or circulating printed, typewritten or written matter urging or presenting for public acceptance or general information, arguments or suggestions in favor of social equality or of intermarriage between whites and Negroes, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to fine or imprisonment not exceeding five hundred ($500.00) dollars or imprisonment not exceeding six (6) months or both. (Mississippi) Intermarriage: The marriage of a white person with a Negro or mulatto, or person who shall have one-eight or more of Negro blood shall be unlawful and void.
Let the last one sink in for a second, because that’s the one that stuck out the most. That was in Mississippi, and was a law 50 years ago today. A law that proclaims it’s illegal to play baseball near a playground devoted to another race is puzzling, even if you ignore that, in one’s eyes, a playground can be “devoted” to a race in general. A law saying that the ground is “set apart” for dead people of one race only is just as mind boggling. But to write a law saying that merely suggesting “racially mixed” marriages is forbidden? That’s bold in its ignorance.
Please remember: People wrote this into law. People wrote this into law despite knowing full well that the First Amendment existed, and that it explicitly said “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or the press.” People wrote this into law believing that their bias, their insensitivity, and their hatred were more important than the first freedom that this country gave its citizens.
Martin Luther King, Jr. made it clear that the civil rights movement was far more important than he was. How right he was.