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4/4/68 and Counting 40 Years

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Message Margaret Bassett
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In October 1948, I took a two-week bus trip through the South. Atlanta was to be my anchor stop. My friend John, who had attended the University of Iowa as a graduate student, was an instructor at Morehouse College and his wife was a music instructor at Spelman. After he received his degree, John was inducted into the Army. We corresponded during his stint at Fort MacDill.
When I wrote I expected to be in Atlanta, John invited me to spend a weekend with them. He told me that when I arrived at the bus station to call him for instructions on how to get to Atlanta University.
Having traveled during the week from New York City to stops in Richmond, Raleigh and Chapel Hill, it was good to get off the road. The day's ride was long as I watched workers going to and from work on a local run. It was well after dark when we pulled into Atlanta. John told me that when I arrived to call him and he would tell me how to get to their house. He explained that black cabbies couldn't risk picking up a young white woman for a black section. And no telling what would happen if I hailed a white cab and then asked for his address. The street car was the best bet. Be sure to sit in front and use only the front door. The tricky part was that at a certain stop the motorman would have to get out to manually switch to another rail. He had the power to hold but not to arrest. The power to hold a person for any reason would be active until he summoned the police.
I felt very lucky because the car was not crowded and the passengers were Negro teenage couples, apparently returning from a downtown movie. I sat on the jump seat behind the motorman, shielded by a small curtain. Immediately my nose told me the fellow was well soused. When he got out to do the switching, he had considerable trouble executing the task, and he used some mean words on that confounded thing. I had told the young people the name of my stop and asked them to give me hand signals when we got there. The motorman continued to mutter ferociously. When the car stopped, I made a beeline for the back door and exited. Those wonderful kids were smiling, and one dared to say, "You know you shouldn't have done that." My friends came forward and we had a delightful weekend.
Again, John explained how he wished it could be otherwise, but they had decided it would be best for us to stay at home and meet their friends. I understood, because we had discussed such matters in Iowa at the Interracial Fellowship meetings the Baptist Church sponsored.
One of their guests was the sociology professor who was a mentor to Dr. King during his undergraduate days. I exposed my ignorance by opining that colored people would never leave their traditional Baptist and Methodist churches to join the Catholic faith. He countered by saying that I should see what was happening in New Orleans. His thesis was that people would put better working conditions and better education for their children ahead of dogma. And, if I really wanted to understand what he was saying, I should join the NAACP when I returned to New York. I took him at his word.
I was used to riding the subways and found it a lot easier to go from Greenwich Village to Harlem (Sugar Hill, the members jokingly explained) than it was to worry about one inebriated white man in friendly black territory. The members were professionals in social work, education and such. They discussed the twin challenges of police brutality and job openings.
A lot of water under the bridge in nearly 60 years. I lived in Chicago and worked down the street from Mayor Daley's home for a company where 95% of the employees were African-Americans. I rode the el to the Loop the day after Dr. King was assassinated. Despite fires in other parts of the city, things were quiet and the Guard stood bored on street corners downtown.
In 1973, at just about the time Congress got active in impeachment discussion, we drove to Atlanta for a week. On April 4, we rode MARTA to Atlanta University as we watched people march to the celebration.
Now that I have read Taylor Branch's excellent trilogy on the King Years, I see things in better perspective. Someone on C-Span advised reading the third volume to think what else there is to do. So I close this to send a note to John Conyers.
Congressman Conyers has taken a lot of heat. Today, in a little memorial on C-Span, he said that if Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks hadn't put in a good word for him, he would probably have lost his first election.
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Margaret Bassett passed away August 21, 2011. She was a treasured member of the editorial team for four years.

Margaret Bassett--OEN editor--is an 89-year old, currently living in senior housing, with a lifelong interest in political philosophy. Bachelors from State University of Iowa (1944) and Masters from Roosevelt University (1975) help to unravel important requirements for modern communication. Early introduction to computer science (1966) trumps them. It's payback time. She's been "entitled" so long she hopes to find some good coming off the keyboard into the lives of those who come after her.
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