SHREVEPORT, La. -- Lets go for a ride. We will head down U.S. 80 toward Columbus, but thats not our destination. Well hang a right after crossing the Chattahoochee River into Phenix City, Ala., headed for Opelika. Once there, well merge onto Interstate 85 and head straight for Montgomery, Ala.
Once there, well stop for a while and take a tour of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. Yep, that one, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was pastor during the tumultuous times of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott that lasted for 381 days and ended in December 1956.
The church still stands as it did then, a block from the spot where Jefferson Davis took the oath to become the president of the Confederate States of America and where George Wallace was inaugurated as governor.
We now head eventually back onto U.S. 80, (known as Jefferson Davis Highway), the same route traveled by thousands of protestors in 1965 in three marches between Selma and Montgomery. The first march, on March 7, 1965, became known as Bloody Sunday. Marchers were met by the full brunt of racist state troopers and police at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.
Along for this ride are my two youngest grandchildren, Paul, 13, and Laniya, 8. Also in the cabin are my in-laws, Joseph and Kay, 81 and 79, respectively. They lived through the history my grandchildren now need to learn.
Why, some might ask, do they need to learn about the devastating times where people who looked like them were denied the vote and subjected to every sort of malice, even murder?
I have a theory. If more people who look like them understood those times, they wouldnt be in the situations they find themselves in today. If they only knew the inhumanity of those times -- not being able to sit at a lunch counter or having to come in back doors or use separate water fountains, they wouldnt be taking potshots at other people who look like them. They wouldnt be assaulting the elderly or running over their own children after a shoplifting spree.
If they only knew that the most prized possession in the 1950s, 60s and 70s was a high school and college education, they wouldnt be dropping out of school in record numbers. If they had endured the four-day march from Selma to Montgomery 48 years ago, sleeping on wet ground, watching for snipers, would they be walking around with pants below their butts?
If they only knew a part of the terror experienced by Civil Rights workers James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Mickey Schwerner, killed and dumped in a pit by the Klan in 1964, would they so readily have children they cant afford or dont have a desire to care for? If they could reflect on the sacrifices of thousands, including Viola Liuzzo, who was killed by racist idiots on this very highway as she ferried civil rights marchers back to Montgomery, would they hesitate a moment to vote any time an election decision needed to be made -- even if in summer?
If they only knew a fraction of the atrocities heaped on people who look like them endured in the face of home-grown terrorists, they might understand those people werent just doing it for themselves, but for future generations -- generations who can walk and talk wherever they please, rather than having to pack sandwiches for trips because restaurants didnt serve people who look like them.
If they only knew, the pride of coming from such solid stock would be so overwhelming, they couldnt do the things they are doing. They couldnt endure living the way they do. They would want something better.
And thats why my grandchildren need to know their past. I want them to feel the pride of standing on land that has been in our family for more than 100 years. I want them to see where their great-grandmother was born and where her ashes have soaked into the rich earth -- earth that will soon belong to them.
Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraphs editorial page editor. Contact him at (478)744-4342; firstname.lastname@example.org; or by Tweet@crichard1020.