In this “Light One Candle” column, The Christophers’ Jerry Costello recalls the struggle for civil rights that Black History Month calls to mind:
The civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s is something fresh in my memory, and at times it’s hard to realize that not everyone shares those recollections. The fact is, I have to keep reminding myself, that for many young people what they know of those events comes mainly from history books. It’s one of those things, I guess, that prods us into realizing that time is indeed moving on.
These thoughts are inspired by the fact that February is Black History Month, a time for all Americans to reflect on what that means for the country. And while that history is multifaceted and richly diverse, few periods are as dramatic or as significant as the battles that took place during those decades.
Battles they were; make no mistake. The papers and the TV newscasts were full of them, day after day: the marches, the sit-ins, the freedom riders. That was part of it; there were also police dogs, tear gas, bombings and murders. The struggle took place mainly in the South, where the mood was defiant and, for a time, unyielding. For example, when James Meredith was finally enrolled as a graduate student in 1962, The New York Times gave it front-page, banner-headline treatment (“Negro at Mississippi U.”). The incident was all too typical of those days; the National Guard moved in, six federal marshals were shot and a campus riot took the lives of three men. It’s against that backdrop of violence that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. emerges as a towering figure–make that the towering figure–of an era.