Wednesday, 28 August 2013


Martin Luther King

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.

~ Bob Dylan

I remember the long hot summers of my childhood spent in Northern California. Though memories dim as we grow older some sights, sounds and scents remain hauntingly fresh. Moments which changed not only your life, but the world. Few would disagree that 1963 was one of those years.

My family moved a lot but stayed in the same town. It was so hot the tarmac would melt and stick to your bare feet. Cars had no air conditioning and the seats burnt your legs if you were wearing shorts. I had a beach towel I would sit on. The outside world had not yet touched me. I was fascinated by the dark purplish red grapes on the vine at my Grandmother’s house, covered in wasps so dazzlingly bright they looked like moving jewels of black onyx and fiery amber. I was beginning to understand that our family were poor and that this limited my opportunities. My Mother made my clothes, they looked old fashioned and second hand. I dressed like a little girl and stood out against the worldly wise more mature girls and boys at the mixed sex predominantly black school. I was not alone in being poor, but I was rare on two counts, I was a white girl and my parents had married and were still married. Family life was fractured or non existent in our neighbourhood where we rented a small home.  By 1963 music had already begun to weave a soundtrack to my life but it was all home grown, The Beatles and the British Invasion was not to happen until 1964.  Cultures mixed, daring black boys taught white girls to dance, and Mexican and Puerto Rican girls taught us to speak Spanish and put on makeup. Their brothers took us for rides in their fantastic 1950s cars which had cost them a lot of labour and few months wages.

The Supremes circa 1963
We all tried to imitate our big sisters who wore tight shift dresses, stiletto heels and beehive hairdos. We coveted our older siblings clothes and record collections. My little mind struggled to keep up with history as it was being made. The tension in the air was constant, everything was changing. We were full of promise and Hope. We could dance to our emotions, but we did not know how to put it into words.

Bob Dylan and  Joan Baez
during the  'March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom' August 28, 1963

But some people did. Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

From ‘This Is the Day: The March on Washington’ by Photographer Leonard Freed

Today is the 50th anniversary of  Aug. 28, 1963, when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led the Jobs and Freedom March on Washington, at which he delivered his “I Have a Dream” civil rights speech at the base of the Lincoln Memorial.
Real signs of the 60s

I am certain that those who did not live in those times can never really understand what segregation was like and how just being seen with a black friend caused you to be an outcast from both black and white people. Even if you were a child. My best friend Cynthia was half black, her Mother a single white woman, her Father a black jazz musician. They had trouble finding a house to rent, landlords showed their disapproval by refusing to let to them. Cynthia and I had a lot of interests in common. I never fitted in either and always felt as if I were just passing through. I knew I was going somewhere but had no idea where, or when.
Her Mother encouraged us to read, learn about politics, attend concerts and poetry readings. She was exotic, she had long blonde flowing hair, wore lots of jewellery and African printed kaftans and sandals. Their life was very different to mine and I felt I belonged with them, that they were free of all the expectations and shackles most people faced. She was the one who first read Jack Kerouac to me, played Dylan, (and Woody Guthrie) and took us to folk festivals in that long hot summer.

She marched in protest marches and attended political rallies. We held hands and wept when we listened to Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. None of us could know what the future held or how prophetic his words were, and yet we knew that we were watching history unfold which would shape the world for decades to come. It was exciting and a little scary.
photo by Brant Ward 'Summer of Love'

We had a few summers together. Although the death of JFK was shocking it also spurred us on. We were interested in politics and we vowed to study law. We believed that we could make a difference - that our generation would change the world. Her Mother drove us to the airport to meet Jim Morrison when the Doors came to town. We were barely in our teens and yet felt terribly grown up wearing our Nehru collared pantsuits with Indian braid on them. The summer of 1967 is forever remembered as The Summer of Love but this was a day, a week, an idea. It was a swansong, riots had erupted as early as 65 and unrest continued.
In April 1968 we lost Martin and by June Bobby Kennedy was gone too. I think my family moved again late that June. My last memory of Cynthia is the day news broke about Bobby Kennedy.  We sat huddled together half the night with the lights off and a hundred candles burning while we played Dylan. They were wrapped in grief, but I was already looking for leaving.

My family moved far away to a more affluent neighbourhood so that I could attend a better school and we lost touch. No mobiles, emails or facebook in those days. No internet. A decade later when I left San Francisco for Europe and had to sort my belongings I found the Dylan album they had given me all those years ago. By then my life had for sometime been more influenced by European events than local and my soundtrack was British bands, The Animals, Yardbirds, Who, Stones, Led Zeppelin, moving on to the so called 'new wave' including The Clash and The Jam. I knew I was leaving never to return and I had one last romance with California in the summer that The Eagles brought out Hotel California which seemed for me to capture that indescribable loss of innocence that occurs as if summer has forever ended.

I was no longer the innocent wide eyed child who looked and listened in wonder. I knew that Summer had gone.

And yet a fire had been lit that will burn forever.


Thank you to the Rev Martin Luther King and to Cynthia and her Mother, wherever they are today. I hope their lives were filled with Joy and Freedom.



  1. A beautiful post ... a young girl's journey, hopes and dreams and a friendship that did not last but did last.

  2. What a wonderful read. Things still need to change.
    Back in 1980s Britain I was spat at and refused service at a bar for having an Asian boyfriend and most clubs in Birmingham used to have a colour quotient on the door - once they'd a certain number of black people in they refused entry to any more, a hideous time. xxx

    1. Vix, Watching the BBC programs last night about Martin Luther King made me realise that Birmingham, Alabama must have been named after Birmingham in England. It is amazing that although we think ourselves very modern today things like this still went on only as long ago as the 80s! We have to remember that humans must continue to progress, after all it is not that long ago that witches and holy men were burnt for their beliefs. x

  3. This is a beautiful post, Minerva, thank you!

  4. I loved this post for many reasons. Thank you for reminding us of those great men who stood for equality. In 1972 I moved from England to South Africa, a racially prejudiced culture and society. In England my friends were black and white Moving to South Africa was a shock and I quickly had to learn to fit in. Whole societies were segregated, there was no opportunity for friendships with people of any other colour than white. Thank goodness for men like Mandela who sacrificed 27 years for freedom for his countrymen!

    1. Sharon, Yes, we who live in mostly free societies must count our blessings each and every day and remember those who sacrificed so that we might be free. x

  5. I was moved and enlightened by your post Minerva. I did smile, because today I have just seen the book my son is reading... Lonesome Traveler. I listended to that world-changing speech this evening. I wish I had been there. Jane xx

    1. Jane, Lonesome Traveller remains one of my favourites, how wonderful that your son is reading it! Minerva x

  6. This was such a personal account of such a tumultuous time in our country and I love you for writing it! I was living in Toronto, a very young child during the 1960s, so I missed the first hand experiences so many had during this time. We moved to Florida in 1974 and it was there in high school that I finally was able to experience diversity in our student population. By then of course, the "no coloreds" signs were gone, but it's the first place I heard "the "n" word". I travelled to South Africa in 1979 and was shocked to see a world that was so backwards and that had "those" signs that had disappeared in the US. I couldn't make sense of it.

    Today I was reading a very good article in the LA Times about all the musicians who were part of Dr. King's "I have a Dream" speech and how they resonated with the crowd and that Harry Belafonte, who chose who would perform, did not heed Malcolm X who said only black artists should perform. Mr. Belafonte said that was not the message of the day. The message still rings loud and clear, but so many do not really listen to it. I hope today when it was replayed so many times that everyone who hears it really listens. And understands what Dr. King was saying.

    I also read that the speech was extemporaneous. As he started to speak a famous gospel singer shouted out "What about the dream, Dr. King? Talk about the dream!" And that's how the speech came to be. One of the greatest ever given in history. We must all listen. Ann

    1. Ann, Thank you for the long reply - it is a subject very dear to my heart, and I am so thrilled to read what you have written. I remember those signs from when I was small as well. some in my area had been removed while others remained, dusty and broken, but a reminder of a past which needed changing. Your last paragraph is true, it was the mighty Mahalia Jackson who urged Martin to use his own words and talk about his dream as he had done amongst his supporters so many times. Minerva x

  7. I also wanted to ask. May I link your blog on mine tomorrow. I'd love to pass this on to more people. I will understand if you would rather I not. Ann

    1. Ann, Thank you for wanting to link this - I'm honoured! Glad that you enjoyed it.

      Minerva x

    2. Thank you and I have linked this wonderful post to my blog! Ann

  8. What a very moving post - your memories of those tumultuous years are so tangible. Thank you for sharing something that I have only ever seen secondhand on old newsreels, and could not fully understand myself as a young girl over on this side of the Atlantic.

  9. Thank you for this amazing post! It evokes such feeling and I appreciate your sharing your memories with us :)

  10. Such poignant Memories. I Share many similar ones in fact so I can relate to the amazing Journey. Through much of the Adversity was born the fierce determination that was instilled in me. Mom was a Foreigner from another Land, Dad was Native American and so my neighborhoods were similar to yours and I'm so Thankful now for the diversity I was Exposed to, even though the reasons for where we were allowed to live in that Era weren't Just. But it did shape the people we have become and I think we turned out quite well, don't you? *Winks*

    Blessings from the Arizona Desert... Dawn... The Bohemian

  11. Such a beautiful, but poignant post Minerva. It made me think.....

    Didn't know you were a Californian girl :-) Just enjoyed the photographs of your friend Willow. What a pretty house you visited together!

    Madelief x

  12. Great post in a very important anniversary. I pray people will undeerstan and live Dr, Kings message.

  13. It was certainly a time of change. Even in Canada, where we watched the events unfolding south of the border, change was in the air. You and I must be of the same age, as our memories are so similar.

  14. A wonderful, moving evocative post, thank you so much for sharing. Lizzie

  15. So you are a witness of one of the turbulent periods America experienced. Though I understand deep rooted traditions die hard, we can see what a change happened in the States over 50 years thanks to the man and followers who spearheaded the civil right movements.
    A bit off the topic, it was when the satellite broadcasting between America and Japan was to be tested for the first time that a shocking image of President J.F.Kennedy came in. I was in my early teens at that time. It is an unforgettable memory.
    Thank you for your memory and I hope your friend's family are doing well now.


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