Sometimes I think we've come so far since Rosa Parks refused to budge from her seat on that bus nearly 50 years ago. Other times I think we've got so far to go.
The civil rights pioneer, as I'm sure you are well aware, was buried here in Michigan today.
I had the chance to see Mrs. Parks up close when she came to Nassau Community College in 1984. I was the editor of the campus paper at the time, which allowed me to slip into the event. I'm a history junkie and jumped at the chance to sneak a peek at someone so important.
I was impressed by the complete and total reverence she commanded, especially from the black students who sponsored the event and hung a banner reading "What so proudly we hail" over her head.
Mrs. Parks looked tiny and frail, and completely uncomfortable with the lavish praise being heaped upon her. We tend to think of heroes as big and strapping, drawn to the cheers and attention. Think of the athletes and politicians who are ready to grab the mantle or think they are entitled to it. Mrs. Parks proved that doesn't have to be the case.
I remember that she spoke, but I didn't recall anything that she said that day. She wasn't a particularly polished public speaker.
But that's OK, because we all know that her actions on that Montgomery bus in 1955 spoke louder than any words.
We've come so far that it is hard for me to imagine a world where people are so openly discriminated against. Separate drinking fountains because of someone's color? Are you kidding me?
My baseball-centric thinking often leads me to believe everything was swell once Jackie Robinson stepped in to the field in 1947. But Mrs. Parks' arrest came nearly a decade later, showing that things had not changed that much.
And perhaps its naive to think that things are as good today as I like to hope. Every once in a while something happens that reminds us how much further we have to go.
The infamous Number 7 train to Shea.
You knew this would get back to baseball. I remember the rant from former Braves pitcher John Rocker in Sports Illustrated in 1999.
Rocker derided a trip on the No. 7 train to Shea, saying he might be forced to sit next to assorted types of folks he finds objectionable.
Then he added: "The biggest thing I don't like about New York are the foreigners. I'm not a very big fan of foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up there. How the hell did they get in this country?"
Now, I feel no sympathy for any member of the Braves, much less a guy like Rocker. New York is certainly the place he describes -- and that is one its biggest strengths. We celebrate its diversity. I don't think they plunked the United Nations in the city because it has good access to a couple airports. The tragedy is that Rocker didn't understand that, and the loss is his.
I guess it is progress that instead of people telling people Rocker he was right, he was practically run out of the game. I'm not for that, either. You treat stupidity with education, not banishment.
Of course, I think that we New Yorkers are so used to diversity that we forget it is different in other places. It got me in trouble in Missouri. I was assigned to cover Homecoming -- hey, you can't be on the front page every day -- and interviewed the Homecoming king and queen, both of whom were black. I mentioned every thing about them except their race because, I thought, BFD.
Well, I got hauled into the editor's office. I was told that Missouri was a still kind of a Southern state, and in fact it was a big deal that two black students could be elected Homecoming king and queen. I thought it would be an insult to mention their race, they were insulted that I didn't. I was reminded that not every place is like New York. A lot of places have even further to go.
This week I went up in the attic and dug out the clipping from Mrs. Parks' day at Nassau.
I found this quote: "As I stand here today, I hope that as we move into the future, we shall find the freedom to accept one another. Any person of good can bring about positive change."