Citizens for a Livable Cranbrook Society provides grassroots leadership and an inclusive process, with a voice for all community members, to ensure that our community grows and develops in a way that incorporates an environmental ethic, offers a range of housing and transportation choices, encourages a vibrant and cultural life and supports sustainable, meaningful employment and business opportunities.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Michael's Musings

Martin Luther King Jr, Barack Obama, the Lincoln Memorial and Me

By Michael J Morris

I first visited the Lincoln Memorial in 1961, after taking off from university with some of my buddies to enjoy the Florida sun. I wish I could tell you that we left university to join the civil rights movement, but our reason for leaving was that it was a rainy miserable Fall day in Waterloo. Somebody said, as we sat drinking beer in the local pub, `Let`s go to Florida,`and without much more thought we piled into my mother`s car (a Corvair), and off we went. At the time I was attending Waterloo Lutheran University, now Wilfrid Laurier University.

I was so impressed with the Lincoln Memorial and all the sites of Washington, and as I reflect on it today, we wandered about freely everywhere we went in the United States capital city. My trip took place of course before the assassinations of President John F Kennedy, Senator Robert Kennedy and Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr,  and 9/11.

As we travelled into the deep south of the United States, for the first time I saw the reality of the segregated society of the times. I vividly recall the signs on everything from restaurant doors, to water fountains, to restrooms clearly stating No Coloureds Allowed or For Whites Only and words to that effect. And `coloureds`of course were to sit at the back of the bus.

Along one highway we stopped and picked up a hitchhiker who was African American and made room for him in the front seat. I was so shocked when he told us he could not sit there, only in the back. We insisted he sit in the front and we transported this very, very nervous young man to his destination. It never really struck me the danger we placed this person and ourselves in by this seemingly simple act until I saw that great movie Mississippi Burning starring Gene Hackman, and to this day I say, `But for the grace of God...`

Coming from a small village in northern Ontario, even though I had spent many summers in the United States visiting family friends with my Mom, I was shocked that all people could not drink from the same water fountain, use the same washrooms and eat in the same restaurants.

What started out as simply a booze trip with my buddies has had the most profound effect on me ever since, and, on January 18, 2009, I had a rush of memories as I watched Barack Obama, the president-elect of the United States, the first African American to be elected to that office, some 47 years plus after I first visited the Lincoln Memorial, speak to the American people. For such a time, in my lifetime, I never expected. Dr Martin Luther King Jr Day was celebrated one day later.

Those memories came back to me when Barack Obama was inaugurated for his second term in January, and again this week when the United States marked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in 1963.

When John F Kennedy was assassinated I was editor of the university newspaper (having returned home safely to Canada), and was home for the summer in 1963 when Dr  King  led the March on Washington and delivered his famous 'I Have A Dream' Speech.

In 1968 I was the news editor at the Chatham Daily News when Dr King and Senator Kennedy were murdered. I visited nearby Detroit and saw the effect of the race riots there, and the protests that were on the rampage in American society. In fact, as an aside, I covered the World Series games in Detroit between Detroit and St Louis with the greatest sportswriter of my generation, the late Reyn Davis.

It was a great time to be in the news business as we were almost assured a 120 point type front page headline daily, but by the end of that year I left the daily newspaper business that I loved, and never returned to it on a full time basis. I had become far too cynical, so far removed from the village life in which I was raised -- although I guess a touch remains with me to this day.

At the end of his famous 'I Have A Dream' speech delivered from that same Lincoln Memorial in August, 1963, Dr King said in part, `And when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and hamlet, from every state and city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God`s children --- will be able to join hands and to sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual. ``Free at last, free at last; thank God Almighty, we are free at last.``

As the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington was celebrated on August 28, yes, freedom has rung among Americans of good will to bring their nation perhaps closer to that perfect union to which they aspire. Much has changed since 1961 when I took my college break into the American south. But much remains to be done before all join hands and sing the old Negro spiritual together.

To have been a minor witness these past 50 years has been a great privilege. My email is

Full disclosure: I am not now and never have been a member of the Citizens for a Livable Cranbrook Society; however, I did conduct a workshop for its members for which I was paid.

Micahel's writings have a large following so if you have not read his own blog you might like to check out: 

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