Joy Writing: Family memories make Civil Rights era personal
by JOYANNA LOVE Banner Senior Staff Writer
Jan 19, 2014 | 539 views | 0 0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
On Monday, the nation will celebrate the birthday of a great leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

King’s leadership wasn’t that of lavish titles or high prestige, but that of a determined Civil Rights Movement — one determined to secure equal rights through peaceful demonstration.

I have long admired the work of Dr. King. And I think I would respect anyone I felt would risk comforts for what they believed was right.

Whether one feels there is more work to be done in the area of equality or not, I think most can agree that King did much to start progress in a positive direction.

King came up in a recent conversation with my grandfather, George Weber II. Something my grandfather said prompted me to ask him what Baltimore was like during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and ’70s.

While he admits he didn’t think much of it at the time, my grandfather had brushes with civil rights issues during his time working for the U.S. Postal Service in Baltimore.

One story he told in particular stands out to me. One Saturday morning Weber, which is what people he worked with called him, and an African–American employee were making special delivery mail distributions. They finished and my grandfather suggested they stop at a diner down the street for an egg sandwich and some coffee.

The co-worker informed Weber he was not welcome in the establishment because of the color of his skin.

So, my grandfather went in and bought two egg sandwiches and coffees. The men sat on a curb near the diner and ate their breakfast.

In my writer’s eye, I can almost see them sitting there. I wonder what those walking by thought, if anything at all.

Segregation showed itself in the Baltimore post office in other ways with separate unions for white and black employees.

Some in the office where my grandfather worked followed the ideology of Malcolm X rather then King. While King emphasized peaceful resistance, Malcom X encouraged those of his race to gain equality however they could. According to History.com, Malcolm X died in 1965, three years before King was assassinated. However, Malcolm X’s ideas were influential in “Black Power” movements of the ’60s and ’70s.

As a supervisor, my grandfather had employees he selected to work with him be reassigned to other divisions by those above him several times. He took the advice of someone who suggested he choose six men that no one else would select in order to be able to keep his crew.

According to my grandfather, some wore a single bullet on a chain around their neck.

“Don’t you know what that means?” a lighter skinned postal worker asked him.

My grandfather didn’t.

“It means death to the white people,” the other worker replied.

The knowledge did not seem to faze my grandfather as he selected the men for his team.

My grandfather said he met with all of them and told them if they did a good job while they worked for him, he would give them an honest review.

They did a good job and got an honest review.

In April 1968, around the time grandfather’s youngest son was born, “showing the man” had taken the form, by some, of buildings being burned.

My grandfather said some of them were African–Americans burning the dwellings they rented from white “slumlords. ”

My grandfather pointed out that these “slumlords” probably simply collected the insurance money from destruction of the property. He questioned whether the culprits had actually accomplished what they had wanted through these actions.

According to a 1998 Baltimore Sun article which recalled these events, violence brought destruction to downtown businesses two days after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in Memphis

“By 6:45 that evening, then-Gov. Spiro T. Agnew had called out the National Guard,” the article states.

Growing up 10 to 15 minutes from the scene of these events, I never knew they happened until now.

History studies of marches on Washington and arrests of civil rights marchers seemed far away when read in a book for a class. Riots in 1968 broke out in several cities.

Now, to sit and think that these events happened so close to those I love is a little astounding.

I wonder what other stories family members might tell if they decided to tell of their brushes with history recorded in bound volumes.