I was just a young boy 50 years ago this week, winding up the summer making my final “clay animals” on the creek banks of rural southwest Virginia before school bells once again began to ring.
We were one of the last white families that bordered the “colored” community a mile down the road. Just enough space between us to make it inconvenient, though not impossible, for my black friends and me to find time to play with one another. There was just enough acreage between us to make it “safe” and “proper.”
At the time, I was young enough to not understand just what laden message these words conveyed, but old enough to begin to wonder.
In the evening of Aug. 28, 1963, I remember thinking something really important was happening.
Rather than seeing “The Virginian,” my mom’s and my favorite western, Walter Cronkite was still doing the evening news, and dad was intent on watching.
A few hundred thousand people, largely black, were “marching on Washington.”
My most lasting impression was that of seeing so many people weeping and hugging. There were lots of speeches, lots of singing.
But, for me, most impacting were the people — person after person — weeping in seemingly great joy and great concern.
Today, 50 years and many miles distant from that creek bank, I still find we maintain similar “boundaries.”
My friend recently shared in the celebration of marriage for a committed, loving couple.
And it made the news.
They didn’t pre-empt prime-time television, but a simple marriage made big headlines. And it wasn’t because one of the newlyweds was black and one was white. That would have made news and been illegal 50 years ago.
It was because they were both male. An act that is illegal by Pennsylvania law today.
The boundaries are still there. Not as clear or marked as those few hundred acres in rural Virginia, but as laden with messages of fear and hatred.
If we can keep “them” distant and “less than,” we will be safe.
I am old enough now to understand the pain such a message instills in our sisters and brothers who are burdened by such fear-filled hate.
Today, I have a dream, one similar to that of the vision and courage of The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and those throngs of civil rights activists of 1963: That the vision and courage of those two beautiful men and my friend who officiated their service, and those throngs of activists who fight the battle for gay rights today, that our weeping tears of great joy and deep concern, will also one day ring forth in justice.
Phil Jones, of Boalsburg, is a community organizer and activist. Most recently he served as director of the State College Refugee Resettlement office on behalf of Church World Service.