By Carol Christoffel
January 17, 2007
Well, another Marin Luther King day has come and gone with little fan fare here in Alaska. There was a front page article on him in the local paper but no big events locally. Perhaps this is because the main issues with racism here concerned Alaskan Natives rather than Black Americans and many of the issues were resolved legally before Martin Luther King's impact on the lower states.
I would like to remember him by reminding people of how far we have come. When I grew up Black Americans did not "mix" with whites, and unpleasant and derogatory names were commenplace in many conversations. Jokes were often told at the expense of Black Americans, who were often portrayed in film and newspapers as lazy, unclean, and inferior. There was a deep suspicion of one another and children of mixed blood often were rejected by both sides of the fence, especially since in slave times, "lighter" Black Americans were given preferential treatment, becoming "House Slaves" as opposed to "field slaves".
Often the slave holder increased his "slaves" via sexual abuse and rape. The leg irons that I saw in slave museums in the South were so heavy that they would have maimed most people if not wrapped or padded with rags. They weighed a good thirty-five pounds or more. If a desperate soul tried to escape a 50-pound "ball" was attached. The face masks of Iron strapped over starving slaves's faces had to be padded with muslin, so that they could not eat the pecans, and fruit of the plantation owner's orchards that they were picking in the hot, humid conditions endured all over the south.
In many states, despite the civil war, there was an attempt to "control" the newly freed slave with harsh laws denying them equal educational and job opportunities, and establishing quasi-scientific blood quantities to determine who was "Black" and who was "White". These laws morphed into real estate red-lining practices in the late thirties and forties often confining minorities to certain areas (ghettoes) by refusing to rent or sell to them. At first used against Jews, then Blacks, it is clear that it was done to Native Americans also. All these things are fact.
It was Mr. Martin Luther King who started things along with the National Association for the Advancement Of Colored People, and many fine people who got things changed.
Now we have a strong Black middleclass, more hope and more upward mobility and our nation is a better place because of it.
Let us not forget the heroic fight that Alaskan Natives made to settle thier land claims, obtain civil rights and protect thier culture from intrusion.
This fight was led by Alaskan Native Brotherhood and Alaskan Native Sisterhood, The Tlingit-Haida Tribal Council and many fine people. One of those good people was Elizabeth Peratrovich, a Ketchkan High School graduate. She did an outstanding job of promoting civil rights for Natives in Alaska.
We have come a long way, but the fight is not over yet. Many still come to Alaska, voicing ignorance and superstition regarding Native Culture, and firmly believe that only Euro-centric values count. Cultural bias still is evident in our institutions, including some churches, law enforcement,et.cet. The myth is that we must all look alike and think alike to be okay. The truth is that America has grown mightly from the influence of all it's immigrant cultures and from the influence of the Native Cultures. Our strength lies in our diversity.
This year when K.I.C. celebrates
Elizabeth Petrovich, come show your support and celebrate with
them. Local churches and businesses have been somewhat underrepresented
in the past, and I am wondering why? Here you have a genuine
American heroine and good person all around, not a myth. Recently
we had a nostalgic op-ed piece on Colombus day, despite tons
of evidence that he was incredibly cruel, not the first one here,
and a poor navigator! Oh well, guess America loves an anti-hero
and a myth. For myself, I like celebrating real people who made
a difference in a good way. Hats off to King and Peratrovich!
Thanks to K.I.C. for celebrating our local Heroine, Elizabeth
About: " Nurse and supporter of diversity."
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