This morning, I challenged my children to tell me why they weren’t in school and what was special about the day. For the Youngest Member, who is not yet six, I accepted the statement that it was Martin Luther King day, and that Martin Luther King helped people fight against segregation. Not bad. A bit later, as the Perfect Non-Reader of this Tohu Bohu (age eleven) was on her way to her Morning of Service, I got quite a bit more detail out of her. After I was satisfied, my Best Reader asked her what her favorite Martin Luther King Day carol was. The Perfect Non-Reader, without batting a proverbial, responded I know one thing I did right/was the day I started to fight. So that’s all right.
Then I sang some Mary, Don’t You Weep and my Best Reader sang Step By Step and then I sang This Little Light of Mine and the Perfect one sang—I don’t remember, but it was something appropriate. We Shall Overcome, probably. And it was good.
I went on to work, and in the middle of the day went to my employer’s observance, which had a speech and some music and some poetry, and then we were all asked to join in Lift Every Voice and Sing. And what happened, or what I saw anyway among the people who were near me, was that all the African-Americans of a certain age got up and sang. And the white folk of a certain age (Your Humble Blogger is in this group) got up and peered at the words that were printed on our programs and mumbled along as best we could, feeling completely alien. The younger people near me didn’t sing, of course, being younger people. I don’t know if any of them knew the words or not, because, young people in public. Not gonna sing. But amongst us certain-age folk, it was clear: the African-Americans knew the song and expected to sing together; the white folk not so much.
So here’s the thing: we were trying to come up with songs for MLK and we didn’t think of Lift Every Voice and Sing. I’m just saying: we didn’t think of it. And that really isn’t surprising for white Americans of my age. We didn’t even think of it.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,