August 28, 2013 is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream Speech.” From my earliest recollection, his words moved me, and I have no doubt that because of that, the opening scene in The Red Kimono’s sequel takes place at this speech.
I’m curious about your answers to the following questions. I answered them, too:
Q. Where were you when you first heard the speech?
I was only five years old, so I don’t actually remember where I was. I was probably outside playing. It’s in listening to and reading his words as I’ve gotten older that I remember and appreciate the importance and eloquence of what he had to say.
Q. What was your favorite part of the speech? Mine is:
I have a dream that my four little children will one day
live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color
of their skin ~but by the content of their character.
Q. On a scale of 1 to 10, with one being “We haven’t progressed at all” and ten being “The dream has come true,” where do you think we are in fulfilling Dr. King’s dream?
Seven. When I see a movie like The Butler (which I highly recommend, by the way,) I see that we’ve come a long way. I can hardly believe we treated human beings with such disrespect, even cruelty, just because of the color of their skin. But when I see the news today, hear the misunderstandings that still occur because for whatever reason, we don’t sit down and get to know someone, I see that we’ve got a ways to go, too.
EXCERPT FROM THE SEQUEL TO THE RED KIMONO:
Washington D.C., August 28, 1963
The sun beat down on thousands of marchers and heat pressed all around Sachi. Yet, chills sent goose bumps up and down her arms and neck.
We shall overcome . . .
Each person had drifted to this place on a separate tributary, but they’d come together in a river of humanity that meandered along the Washington Mall toward the Lincoln Memorial. And they sang in one voice.
Sachi’s son, Michael, sidled between her friends, Jubie and Terrence. Each held one of his hands.
Who would have thought that Sachi’s best friend would be colored? And never would she have imagined that Terrence Harris, the colored man who nearly killed her father, would play such an important part in her life.
Jubie tickled Michael. “We may not get to see Dr. King, but we sure gonna hear him. ‘Sides, maybe Terrence’ll put you up on his shoulders so you can see better.” She poked Terrence in the ribs.
“We’ll see about that,” Terrence replied. “How old are you now, Michael? Six?”
Michael rolled his eyes. “No! I’m almost ten.”
A wry grin, and Terrence’s hazel eyes flashed with mischief. “Kinda big to be sitting up on my shoulders, aren’t you?”
Sachi waited for Michael’s comeback.
“Maybe you’re just too old to think about putting a kid as big as me up on your shoulders.”
Terrence clutched his shirt over his heart. “Aw, man. You got me. Well, like I said, we’ll just see—”
A deep voice boomed over the loudspeakers. “At this time, I have the honor to present to you, the moral leader of our nation, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”
The crowd hushed. Sachi stood on her toes. Everyone cheered and waved their hands, signs, hats—anything to draw attention. Dr. King began to speak. People fanned themselves as they listened. Many nodded and clapped between his statements.
Huffing, Michael huffed and stomped his foot.
Sachi leaned over and whispered, “Come stand over here. Maybe you can see better.”
“Oh, all right,” Terrence said. “I guess you’re ready to get up on my shoulders.”
Michael’s face lit up. “Yeah!”
Terrence kneeled and helped Michael climb onto his shoulders.
Sachi watched them as she listened to the words of Dr. King.
. . . will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Michael, the son of a Japanese woman and a Caucasian man, sat on the shoulders of the black man who almost killed her father, and they all listened to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talk about freedom and equality. How things had changed in sixteen years.
Dr. King spoke of a struggle for the rights of colored people, and Sachi believed “colored” came in all shades.
Jubie fanned herself and shook her head. “Ain’t it just something else?”
Looking down from Terrence’s shoulders, Michael asked, “Ain’t what something else, Miss Jubie?”
“Them words, Michael. Them words.”
. . . free at last, free at last. Thank God, Almighty, we’re free at last.
The ocean of humanity roared like a wave coming ashore after a long journey at sea. But Sachi stood quietly, absorbing the hum of unity, the look of hope in each person’s eyes.
Terrence wiped his sleeve across his face. “I hate to be the one to break up all the fun, but we best head back to the car. It’s gonna be a mess getting out of this place.”
“I think you’re right,” Sachi said.
Michael pointed behind them. “The car’s back that way.”
“Gotcha, buddy.” Terrence turned away from the monument and wove his way through the crowd.
Sachi followed. She had to admit she wished Jubie would stop chattering on and on about the events of the day so she could reflect in silence. But Jubie always chattered when she was excited.
Michael yelled, pointing to the parking lot. “There’s our car. I see it!”
Jubie talked faster, like she had to get everything out of her head before they reached the car. “And can you believe all the people—”
A pop crackled, so loud even Jubie stopped talking.
It came from the right. Fireworks? Sachi shaded her eyes from the sun, searching the sky. No fireworks.
She heard screams. People pointed in her direction.
She turned to where they pointed toward Terrence. She feared the worst, but her fears did not prepare her.
Terrence yelled. “Michael!”
Her son lay on the ground, blood creeping over his shirt. He stared at her with the same glazed look in his eyes that Papa had that day in the park, as though he tried to speak a thousand words before life faded from him.
She fell to his side. “Michael? Honey, stay awake. Don’t close your eyes.” She grabbed Terrence and shook him hard, as if shaking him hard would make it all go away. “What happened?” she pleaded.
Before he replied, a man yelled. “There!” Dozens of people ran in the direction of the gunfire. Police swarmed, guns drawn. Sirens whined and whistles screamed from all directions.
Terrence searched the crowd. “I don’t know what happened. Somebody call an ambulance!” He stared at Sachi, tears in his eyes. “He’s been shot, Sach. I’m sorry. So sorry.”
Somewhere, a thousand voices began to sing in the distance.
My country ‘tis of thee . . . sweet land of liberty.