Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Babies and Knowledge

My son was born on Martin Luther King Day. My husband and I, who are both political activists, found it a unique coincidence that our son would be born on the day we celebrate one of the nation's civil rights leaders. Having grown up and then gone to college in Georgia, I have known about the King legacy for as long as I can remember. Although my childhood classes barely scratched the surface of civil rights, and much of the information we learned was not accurate or complete, we did learn about Reverend King.

When I was in college, I became incredibly politically involved. Living an hour south of Atlanta, I was able to draw from the experiences of veteran civil rights organizers, many of whom call Atlanta home and are willing to help out a younger generation of activists, if only through words and personal letters of support. While our small groups would get letters from civil rights figures, we also sometimes got visit. We always got advice and word that they were supportive of our efforts. Feeling as if you are standing on the backs of people who put their lives in danger for this country was an amazing feeling.

Among those figures was Coretta Scott King. Her death this morning, at the age of 78, is sobering. It comes only months after another legend, Rosa Parks, passed away. Now I look at my son and realized that for today's babies, these civil rights leaders will be ancient history. They will not be aged faces that he can see if he participates in some of the same activities or if he goes to certain events. They will be history, long dead by the time he is old enough to understand.

Thinking about my son's loss of history with the passing of these figures, it makes me more aware of my responsibility as his mother to make sure that he does not forget, to make sure that he is educated about the struggles in this nation's history. Those struggles are not only the fight for African Americans but for the independence of the colonies, the women of this nation, and all of the other groups of people who have fought to make this country what it is.

My job as his parent is to begin right now - today, in fact - by telling him about these great leaders, by making sure that he understands who they are and what they did. I must make sure that my son, who is born into privilege not only because of his economic situation but because of his race and sex as well, understands that other people have not been so lucky.

They have fought and died for this nation, so that generations of babies can come into the world and have opportunities that their ancestors did not. I wonder sometimes in my idle time if my son's generation is the one Dr. King mentioned in his famous speech. Will they judge their fellows by the content of their character? Have we moved beyond a place where they will be judged by race?

My son is only a baby, and people may think that it is odd that I talk to him about the history of our nation, but I think that it is vital to know. I know that he must understand that other people have made sacrifices for our country. They are sacrifices that my husband and I, and others of our generation, likely will not be asked to make. Instead we will show our disapproval in other ways, through letter-writing, rallies, and protests. We will share our voice through the political process because we are permitted to participate in it. We will tell the world that we believe in the causes that led to the deaths of Americans during the civil rights struggle.

And we will tell our son. He is sleeping now, free from the cares of the world. When he gets up this morning, we will begin. I will tell him that an incredible woman has died and that she lost her husband and then dedicated the rest of her life to make this country a greater place. It is only fair that I tell my baby.

By Julia Mercer

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