About 15 years ago, while changing planes at what was then known as The William B. Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport, I was on an escalator going up from the cavernous underground rail system that connects the various terminals. As I ascended to Terminal A, a woman wearing a bright green coat brushed past me racing up the moving staircase. When I alighted at the top, I saw the woman’s face. It was Coretta Scott King, who by then had been the widow of slain Civil Rights pioneer Martin Luther King, Jr. for some 20 years. She looked tired, but purposeful. Like someone with a role thrust upon her that she didn’t particularly want, but was determined to carry out. ...
When I learned of Mrs. King’s death, it brought back memories of my introduction to the so-called Deep South in the Fall of 1967, barely three years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had come to be. As I drove through northern Louisiana, I saw a “Colored” sign over a rest room door. I remember thinking, “How is that possible? It is against the law.” Such naiveté may be forgiven a 19-year-old second-generation American from the Great Midwest, whose largest minority group may have been Native Americans living, for the most part, on casino-less government reservations.
As I transitioned through young adulthood and continued to mature, as it were through my 20s and 30s, I lived in several areas of the South, including Georgia, Maryland, Florida, Kentucky, Alabama and North Carolina. Because I was living it every day, I wasn’t cognizant of the maturation that the South was also undergoing. Atlanta’s airport is now Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, adding the name of Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first black mayor, elected in 1974 and who served three very successful terms. ...
For whatever reason, Atlanta has been the focal point for successful growth and was and is the capital of the New South. Like any metropolis, Atlanta has its share of visible poverty. But, unlike other such cities, Atlanta also has extensive, comfortable racially mixed suburbs with comfortable, well-kept homes and beautiful churches. With each year’s passing through ATL, visible evidence of upwardly mobile black businessmen and women became more apparent. Leisurely drives along country roads throughout Dixie also attest to what appears to be a new attitude.
The Underground Railroad, once used to rescue escaped slaves, is long , gone replaced by the underground rail at the airport and by MARTA, a magnificent people mover that connects Hartsfield-Jackson with downtown Atlanta and other points. In Coretta Scott King’s Atlanta, the dream of her late husband may have, just may have, come as true as true can be in this life. May she rest in peace.
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