It was a cold day in Chicago in 1968 when my father received a fateful call that would prove to be life changing for our family. My mother had no clue who the mystery caller was on the other line, but she overheard my dad say: “I am not married to The International Harvester Corporation.” That little comment unnerved her! He had been employed at International Harvester for 17 years at that point in their married life. But that was all about to change.
A corporate head hunter called that night. By June of 1969, our family moved to Racine, Wisconsin. Tenneco Oil Company had recently acquired J.I. Case Farm Equipment. My dad was employed to be a part of a corporate turnaround team for a struggling company. I knew he was making several trips from our home in the Chicago suburbs to Racine, but I was not aware of what was going on around us.
During his negotiations with The Case Company there was at least one trip to Racine that was cancelled. I found out years later that racial tensions were so high at times in late 1968 and then into 1969 that corporate leaders urged my father and others not to drive into Racine. In their minds, it was not safe.
Fast forward our life as a family in Racine to the fall of 1974. I was a 7th grader at Jerstad Junior High School. Racial tensions once again broke out on our campus, and in a more pronounced way at Horlick High School a few miles from the junior high campus. School was dismissed early for a couple consecutive days. The anxiety on that occasion was set in motion by court ordered bussing by the Federal Government. Schools were too segregated, so the government used bussing a means of desegregation.
Today our nation demonstrates it respect to civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King. I was too young during the Civil Rights Movement to remember much about it. I was not born in 1955 when he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott. I was just over a year old when he delivered his famous speech; I have a Dream on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28th, 1963. But I am thankful that I am old enough to have experienced some of the realties of godless racism.
I don’t think my children have a racist bone in their bodies. They have always assumed that it is normal for people of all races to go to school together. And that is good. But I am thankful that I experienced racial difficulties at least on a surface level as a child. It causes me to appreciate key leaders in history like Dr. King, who forced us to reach for the normalcy that my children have grown up with. I also realize that racism is still alive and well in some quadrants of our society, and that too causes me to be grateful that I experienced what I did as a kid. I hope such experiences cause me to be a better proponent of peace and equality.
Where were you on April 4th, 1968? I was in Kindergarten in Arlington Heights, IL. Believe it or not they had Kindergarten back then. That was the day that Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, as he tried to promote peace and equality… Perhaps the more important question to pose is: What are you doing in 2011 to promote peace and equality?