Why Do We Take Off From School for Martin Luther King Jr. Day?

I thought that this  story was so stricking…just had to share it.  Blessings to everyone who has made my FREEDOM possible.  Respect!By Nancy Churnin nchurnin@dallasnews.com for WFFA 8 Dallas

Julia Jordan had a simple answer 18 years ago when her granddaughter Julie, then a high school student, questioned the point of taking the day off for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, complaining that the clay in her school art project would harden during the long weekend.

“I told her mother to pull her sweater up and show her the scars on her back,” Mrs. Jordan says.

Julie’s mother, Leiwanda Kayrette Stoker, got those scars from sitting at all-white lunch counters during the Montgomery bus boycott, when Alabama police and sheriffs sometimes pressed burning cigarettes and cigars into the backs of those who challenged segregation. As a 16-year-old college student at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., Mrs. Stoker was inspired by Dr. King’s words and left school with fellow students to march with him. She was jailed three times. Her mother flew in to bail her out each time, eventually depositing her in Los Angeles with family to keep her out of harm’s way.

“I told Julie, ‘This is the only reason you are going to your school today,’ ” Mrs. Jordan says. “Julie cried. She said to her mother, ‘Mommy, I didn’t know.’ ”

Mrs. Stoker died three years ago from lung cancer. And that’s why it means so much to Mrs. Jordan that the stories of those who fought for civil rights, like her daughter, are kept alive in “381 Days: The Montgomery Bus Boycott Story.” The African American Museum in Fair Park is presenting the 3,500-square-foot national touring exhibition of photographs, political cartoons, illustrations, text and audiovisual elements, developed by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service in collaboration with the Troy University Rosa Parks Library and Museum. The display runs through Jan. 13.

The exhibit shows how Rosa Parks’ arrest on Dec. 1, 1955, for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man mobilized 50,000 people to protest for 381 days. The arrest led to a Supreme Court ruling in November 1956 that segregation on city buses was unconstitutional.

After all these years, Mrs. Jordan still seems awed by her daughter’s courage. Mrs. Jordan, all four of whose grandparents were slaves in Texas, is a survivor, in part, because she was reared to be aware of racism and savvy about how to avoid dangerous encounters.

She’s troubled that, like her daughter, many who marched with Dr. King are dying off, burying their scars and what they endured for freedom.

Mrs. Jordan believes passionately that their memories must not die, too.

“It’s important because these children need to know what folks went through to reach where they are now,” she says. “I think of what my daughter went through. I remember how she told me, ‘Mother, we could smell our own flesh burning.’ I said: ‘Kay, you could get killed. These people are vicious. We may never find your body.’

“And she said, ‘Mama, I am committed and willing to die for you and for Daddy and for children not yet born. If you heard Dr. King’s speeches, you would follow his teachings, too.’ ”

Mrs. Jordan was proud of her daughter, but frightened. When an opportunity finally came to participate in a civil rights march in Dallas, she parked her car, intending only to observe as her son, Frank Jordan III, and her husband, Dr. Frank H. Jordan Jr., joined the crowd, which was followed by an ambulance in case there was violence. And then something unexpected inside her stirred, sending all those years of caution blowing in the wind.

“When they started marching and singing, I really couldn’t tell you what happened to me,” she says. “I was hypnotized. Before I knew it, I had marched all the way downtown.”

The exhibit continues through Jan. 13 at the African American Museum, 3536 Grand Ave. in Fair Park. 214-565-9026. www.aamdallas.org.

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