Marcia’s Law – The Real Promise of Democracy
“Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
By Marcia Prichason
When I was 12, my best friend Vicki and I spent our summer bike riding. We lived in a new subdivision that seemed to have sprung from the cornfields almost overnight. There were plenty of new houses and streets to explore. When you’re 12, the world can be both a scary and wondrous place. And, there’s no better way to figure it out than on a bicycle with your best friend.
We’d meet up in the morning at my friend’s house; a small, three bedroom ranch. Sparky the dog barked ferociously at me from his dog house. The potatoes were already boiling in the pot on the stove for dinner. And Vicki’s numerous sisters and brothers were in varying states of undress, tumbling about on the living room floor, sitting lazily at the kitchen table consuming cornflakes, or wandering the front yard wielding baseball bats, croquet mallets, or cast off golf clubs. Vicki would rush to get out quickly before she was told to babysit the brood, and off we’d go on another new adventure.
Mid-summer, Vicki’s family jammed themselves into their ancient station wagon and drove from Illinois to Florida for a vacation. She was gone a week, and I missed her terribly. It’s hard to explore the new world on your own. When she returned, we resumed our regular schedule of disappearance from our respective families and reestablished our relationship. A week is a long time in the life of a 12 year old, and there were many tales to tell.
Vicki regaled me with stories about the south; the funny accents, the slow talk and slower walk, the beautiful beach where they’d rented a cottage, and the drinking fountains they encountered. She relayed that some fountains said “Whites Only” and some said “Colored.” Since I had no idea what “Colored” meant, Vicki explained in her most patient voice that Negros couldn’t drink from the same water fountain as white people. Not only that, if there were people waiting in a line at the store, Negros always stepped aside so that white people went ahead of them. This was an astonishing story to me. I immediately called her a “big fat liar” because I knew that people in this country didn’t treat other people that way.
As we moved into Junior High, our relationship, strained from my disbelief in her story and our burgeoning different interests, began to wane. I walked to school with another girl and, one day, the discussion turned to boys. I was not allowed to date in Junior High, but it was not forbidden to this new friend. I was curious about what THIS new world had to offer. She had already dated some boys; the totality of which consisted of stopping at McDonalds on the way home from school and sharing a coke and fries. While she was vague about the details regarding these encounters, she was definite about the constraints her parents put upon her; she could date any white boys she wanted, but she could not date a Negro.
This perplexed me. What was the big deal? “Really, it’s quite simple,” she said. “If you date someone, you might marry him, and you can’t marry a Negro.” I failed to see the logic in any of that, nor could I understand what difference it made who you loved…that ended THAT friendship.
Junior High became pretty lonely. It got out that my views on things were a little different, and no amount of being “nice” could change that. I believed that people should be treated as equals regardless of who they were or where they came from. The rest of the people in my world thought differently.
It seems though, that I wasn’t the only one who believed in equality. Discriminatory laws were about to fall. Looking back now 45 years later, it’s clear that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 changed the way some people are treated in this country. And, although bigotry and prejudice still exist, there are legal measures in place to ensure that there is equal protection under the law. There are no separate lunch counters, toilets, or water fountains. People do not automatically give up their place in line. People can vote. And, most importantly, laws on the books prohibiting interracial marriages have been struck down. In this country, anyone can marry whoever they love…unless, of course, they’re LGBTQ…
…And the child in me still in me doesn’t understand why that is so. Inequality made no sense in 1964, and it makes no sense now. Because in this country, the real promise of democracy is that the color of your skin, your ethnic, cultural, or religious background, OR your sexual identity or sexual orientation should not determine whether or not you are equal under the law. It’s a concept so simple; really, even a 12 year old can understand it.
…And I’m just a mom who loves her son…