August 28, 1963. Three little colored children traveled from Denver Colorado to Detroit Michigan on a passenger train called the Norfolk & Western. Less than two years later, they would take yet another trip on the Southern Railway line to meet up with The Central of Georgia, headed to a place called Columbus. It was me and my older sister and younger brother, and later, a baby sister. We moved from a time and place where the society’s young children knew of no racism or racist activity, to a place where most colored people had seldom laid eyes on a white person, let alone went to school or church with them as we had.
However, we didn’t know we were Negroes until we came south. By the time I was five, I had an idea that I might be. By the time I was 11 and first heard the words “nigger” come out of someone’s mouth when they were talking to me instead of my grandmother cussing out my grandfather back when we didn’t know what the word meant, I was absolutely certain of it. It was a time when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial talking about “dreams” that we didn’t know, at the time, that we weren’t privy to. We found out a few years later, in 1966, when we moved to our mother’s hometown in the deep southwest of Dr. King’s home state.
Just south of us on that day in 1963 lie a place called Stone Mountain, Georgia, where Klansmen were planning our futures before we got a chance to think about what we wanted to be when we grew up. We had no clue that our destinies were about to merge with theirs in one of the hottest political climates the south had ever known. The heat wasn’t coming from the southern midsummer sun beating down on their hatred-filled heads as they listened to Dr. King’s speech and laughed, “Ha! That’ll be the day!” It was coming from the heat, the fire inside of them to wreck Dr. King’s plans and those of his ‘nigger-loving’ civil rights cohorts, even if they had to kill them all, one family at a time.
The day they said would never come has, in fact, come and gone, but not without great loss of limb, life, and property in the pursuit of liberty and justice -- and the happiness, as the Constitution committed, which seemed even farther away. By the time the smoke blew away and the dust settled, a war had been fought and won. It wasn’t a war-matching weapon for weapon, blow for blow, as the Klan had hoped … it was a war that had been fought over a long period of time by a peace-loving people who refused to pick up a gun and issue idle threats. They believed they had time, and God, on their side, and it was ultimately proven to be true. Before I would attend middle school, the passage of time would see me whisked off to the south on a train, then ‘bused’ to a white school in my neighborhood that was close enough for me to walk as the other children who lived further away rode past me.
Just north of us now was the same Stone Mountain from which the Klan had scoffed at Dr. King’s dreams and dared him to come try to claim their corner of the world. It was a place where the parents of the colored children of Shennantown, the black allotment of Stone Mountain, had asked for a simple sidewalk for their children to walk on to get to school. It was a sidewalk that was never built for them, in spite of the state income taxes they were forced to pay on their own properties, until Chuck Burris was elected its first black mayor some 35 years later. It was the first thing on his agenda, and six months afterward, the town of some 6,700 residents on the base of the north Georgia mountain, the largest exposed mass of granite in the world, according to Stone Mountain historians, finally made it right.
Burris, when asked how he felt about living under the shadow of that gigantic hideous historic carving of granite on the face of Stone Mountain, a carving that will never ever go away, found himself laughing as the Klansmen must have laughed some 35 years earlier. His laugh, however, wasn’t filled with hatred and insistence that the monstrosity be replaced with his likeness, though he swore he would have struck a much more handsome figure of a man. He simply shook his head and said, as he watched instead, the replica of the Liberty Bell being installed on the city’s market square that he ordered placed there to commemorate the speech of that long hot August day in 1963, when Dr. King said let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia, “There’s no more time for the past. We’ve got a long and prosperous future to look forward to.” Free at last, free at last … we ‘ain’t’ where we want to be, we ‘ain’t’ where we’re going to be … but thank God almighty, we most assuredly ‘ain’t’ where we was.