Historical moment

November 5th, 2008 by Ken

I didn’t vote for Barack Obama for president.  I thought he lacked the maturity and experience to be president.  But last night, when he give his victory speech, I found tears rolling down my cheeks.

I think only those of us who were involved in the civil rights movement really understood the historical significance of his election.

That’s right – I was involved in the civil rights movement, although not voluntarily.  I had enlisted in the army and in 1962 was stationed with the 101st Airborne Division in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Coming from lilly white Washington state I had never seen a black person until I joined the army, but here I was, living, working and playing with people of all races.

Then the call came.  We were needed in Oxford, Mississippi where James Meredith was enrolling as the first black student at the University of Mississippi, and crowds of white radicals were keeping him from doing so and putting him in danger.

We caravaned in trucks down from Kentucky to Mississippi, harassed all the way by cars filled with young, angry white men, driving in and out of the convoy and in one case setting one of the trucks on fire.

When we go to Old Miss, all of the black soldiers were separated out while the white troops engaged in riot control drills.  The black soldiers were sent to do KP, garbage detail and other maintenance work.

That was really my first time seeing racism in action.   I suspect the reasons for the separation made sense, but I couldn’t see it.

Only a few of us were needed for riot control and I was never chosen.  But the event left me with an understanding I had never known before.  Racism did exist and people like James Meredith, as well as the black soldiers who under went the humiliation of being separated because of their skin color, were the vanguard of last night’s victory celebration.

Posted in History, The Real News

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