I went home for Thanksgiving this year, home being Birmingham, Alabama, Alabama being the state known for its history of hardheaded, mean hearted, and soulless racial politics.
After a century and a half of lynching and bombings, and institutionalized hatred of African Americans, things seemed to have been changing over the past fifty years. There are all sorts of signs of that. After the extraordinary Civil Rights’ Museum, my favorite sign of this change is the airport itself—named, now, for Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, a leader in the civil rights’ movement whose home had been dynamited in 1956 by fellow Birmingham citizens, and who had died just a month ago.
Recently, and alarmingly, Alabama’s racism has reinstitutionalized itself again, this time taking concrete form in a series of anti-immigrant laws that are impressive in their evil. In their essence, the laws make anyone even looking Latino a suspicious person.
There remain signs of hope, even in the midst of this enormous setback in the struggle to create a more human world order. The faith communities in Alabama immediately protested the laws (it took them quite a bit longer to get their act together during the first civil rights’ movement) and even the farmers chimed in at the stupidity of their state representatives.
The laws were that bad—the pure-hearted found themselves allied with the purely selfish.
I discovered my own favorite sign of hope as we were heading back to Texas. As I walked into Fred Shuttlesworth Airport, I found an eight year old girl parked right in front of the entrance. She was sitting on some luggage, and had on a white and green and red soccer shirt with the word “Mexico” blazing across the back.
I liked the innocence of that effrontery; I liked it all the more when her apparent father or grandfather or uncle came up and took her hand and they walked together down the aisle.
He was a tall African American man who was wearing a black jacket that had its own statement screaming across the back.
It said, in large, red letters: BLACK.
The two of them made their way through the holiday crowd slowly and confidently, and, I would say, as defiantly as the new future that is coming our way, whether the white Alabama legislators like it or not.
As that black man and that brown girl walked down the way, the air above them seemed to shimmer, just for a moment. It was as if Fred Shuttlesworth himself had spotted them and that they had given him cause for a heavenly shout of joy.
“Órale,” I thought to myself, in Mexican, or “Yeehaw,” as we say in Alabama.