“Ah but ain’t that America for you and me
Ain’t that America somethin’ to see baby
Ain’t that America home of the free, yeah
Little pink houses for you and me”
March 22 doesn’t mean much nationwide. But it’s important to see what it was in the South nearly 50 years ago, and what it means today.
That date is the 49th anniversary of a big march from Selma to Montgomery (different from “Bloody Sunday”). With two students who came to present some research at the Alabama Political Science Association, we went to the Dexter Street Baptist Church the day before, where Martin Luther King, Jr. preached and the big march culminated. A short time later, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Just down the road, we went to the base of the Alabama State Capitol, and took photos of the first Capitol of the Confederacy, which was in Montgomery before moving to Richmond a few months later. It’s all there together.
That afternoon, my students presented their research, prompted by a Republican State Senator, for a US Congressman, several department chairs, and a distinguished political scientist, now at Alabama State University, who was in the Jackson State University dorm when state troopers fired into the building, killing two students and wounding several, during a Vietnam War demonstration, the South’s “Kent State incident.”
The next day, March 22, was a different kind of day for LaGrange, Ga. It’s called “Opening Day.” The baseball fields and nearby parking lots were jammed with kids, coaches, parents, and relatives. There were blacks and whites, Hispanics, and Asians. Other than gender after six, there was no segregation. Nobody seemed bothered by it. Everyone was focused on baseball.
As the first wave of games ended and cars hurried out, while others pressed in for the next set of games, which would last all day, a vehicle by the side of the road refused to start. The African-American family poured out of the family car, looking lost.
Beth pulled over by the side of the road, and I hopped out with a pair of jumper cables. But the logjam of cars prevented me from getting to theirs. My efforts were as helpful as providing a old can of soup, without a can opener.
A white pickup in the service of Jackson Heating and Air pulled up next to the distressed family. The white repairman, who very much resembled a good ol’ boy, took the cables, popped his hood, and proceeded to jump start their vehicle.
That moment, that day, this time, all served as a microcosm for how far America has come. Helping a stranded motorist, sharing a baseball game on an integrated team, just seems as natural as any other that might be seen across America. Some would say we put a man on the moon, but haven’t done anything impressive since. I would beg to differ, letting, as Langston Hughes would say, America be America again.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College.