Would I have been a racist in 1955?

Me eating a hot pepper with some trepidation. It’s included here because i can never find just the right post to insert it.

As I wandered around Montgomery, Alabama with my map of the city in hand, I realized that I was very excited to learn more about black history. This was the beginning of a nearly spontaneous vacation that had no particular destination in mind. We were just going to drive until it was warm. We stopped in Montgomery because I wanted to visit Hank Williams Sr.’s grave site. We decided to stay for a couple days, and check out some of the historical sites in the city. This was near the end of February, the end of Black History month. I really did get a quality education in this area during my walking tour. I’ve written about this elsewhere: Here and here.

I was in awe during my tour of Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, and during my visit to the Rosa Parks Museum I actually experienced chills several times, especially during the multimedia reenactment of the Rosa Parks event. I found myself rooting for Rosa as if I didn’t know how the story played out. I was more excited than I’ve ever been about the civil rights movement. And then, out of the blue, I wondered, “If I had actually been at the event, which side of the civil rights movement would I have aligned myself with? Would I have been a racist in 1955?”

My answer is: I don’t know. But there is always the possibility. This is almost the same question as the age old “nature vs. nurture” argument. On the side of nature, I could easily argue that if I am not now, then I wouldn’t have been then. The flipside is that I was fortunate enough to have gone to public schools (from 1979-1991) that taught me about racism, and preached against it. So maybe I am not racist because of my education, and not necessarily my nature. (I say this with a little reservation, because every single human is somewhat racist.) Perhaps if I had gone to an all-white school that preached segregation to me, I may have been on the wrong side of history. Except that there were plenty of all white segregationist schools, and I’m sure that some of the whites who worked hand in hand with the blacks during this era also went to these schools, and they turned out alright.

The question doesn’t bother me that much, but it does make me think. I’ll never know the answer to a hypothetical situation, but the truth probably lies somewhere in between. I do like who I am, I like my nature. But I am also lucky to have had the upbringing and education to not classify people based on race. There are always too many variables to know the truth in a hypothetical – you can never have the answer, it just causes more questions.

And “more questions” is always a good thing.

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.-Martin Luther King, Jr.
“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.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

(not quite) Midnight in Montgomery

By Matthew Bennett IMG_6711

Growing up, I heard more Johnny Cash and Gaither Trio songs than Hank Williams songs, but Hank was a part of my music listening experience from an early age, and I often consider Hank’s life, amazing story, and tragic ending. Perhaps this is why I ended up a country musician even though I it is not my favorite type of music. I will say that it is definitely my favorite type of music to play live.

Neither Hank WIlliams nor The Oakwood Annex Cemetery were running through my mind at all as we drove Interstate 85 into Montgomery, Alabama on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Also absent were any thoughts of Civil Rights, the Civil War, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., segregation, the Confederacy, or any other aspects and events that are part of the eye-opening history of Montgomery. I knew about these events, and even where they took place, but there was a disconnect in my mind between the history and the actual place.

Fortunately, what was running through my mind was Alan Jackson’s song “Midnight in Montgomery”. I was singing the song, and I remembered what it was about. Alan Jackson, in his bus, the Silver Eagle, visiting Hank’s gravesite in Montgomery. I’m not commonly prone to the middle school reaction of OMG!, but that is the moment, on I85, that my mind made the connect. OMG – Hank Williams is buried here! We decided to go visit the site the next day, hopefully get some good pictures, and then figure out what else we could learn about Montgomery as a whole.

I learned how little I knew about what happened with Rosa Parks, and even watched a re-enactment in the Rosa Parks Museum. Now when I hear about the incident, I feel like I was there – understanding the event itself much better, as well as the events leading up to, and where history turned immediately after the incident. All of this was only a tiny portion of the things we did and saw walking the streets of this historic city.

I learned so much, all because of one little spark of history that came to me as a song running through my head. So for these random thoughts that come to me that change my life forever in surprising ways, I have to thank my parents for playing the music, Alan Jackson for writing about the MAN, and last but never least, Hank Williams, for writing the songs that made me want to visit you when I was close.