HATE TAKES A HOLIDAY
I wanted to turn off the television set. Though it was two in the morning, I sensed that Terry Goddard would hold his lead over Fife Symington.
Even Proposition 302 appeared safe. I thought the huge effort put in by the business community would pay off. Arizona would finally have a paid holiday honoring the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.
Suddenly, the picture changed. The television news anchors warned of a large block of votes coming in from the East Valley and Sun City.
By three o'clock, Fife Symington took the lead. And with the rush of votes for Symington, there also came a tide of anti-King holiday votes.
Fife Symington kept the lead. The King holiday verdict turned sour.
By four in the morning, the picture was depressingly clear. Symington and Goddard would face each other in a run-off.
The legion of avengers led by Max Hawkins, Julian Sanders, and Evan Mecham turned out to have enough votes to stop the Martin Luther King holiday.
The death rattle of the Evanistas, which began with Mecham's impeachment, turned out to have enough venom to poison Arizona one more time.
Mecham's good people had proved that racism is still alive and flourishing.
This was followed by another descent into the maelstrom. The Super Bowl was jerked out of the state. The Fiesta Bowl was endangered. The possibility of a major league baseball franchise became a distant memory. There would be no NBA all-star game in the near future.
Mecham's good people had proved they couldn't be intimidated. They had much to celebrate.
I know there are racism and ignorance wherever you turn in this state. But I never really thought it was that pervasive. Now I've been proved wrong.
As a young reporter in Chicago, I covered dozens of what used to be called "racial incidents."
A black family would move into an all-white neighborhood. The crowds would gather at twilight. First, they would start throwing rocks. When darkness fell, they would try to set the house on fire.
I was always amazed at the kind of people who showed up to throw rocks and scream and curse in the darkness. Some of them looked just like Mecham, Hawkins, and Sanders. Others in the crowd didn't look like marginal mongoloids.
They seemed like normal people who would nod when you sat down next to them on the bus or the train. In fact, they looked exactly like the kind of people I grew up with. And they were.
I was working on the Chicago Tribune when King made his journey to Washington, D.C., to give his "I have a dream" speech. I remember many of the veteran reporters growling over the fact that the reporter our city editor had assigned to the story rode on the train with the black contingent from Chicago.
"He even rode with them" was the way it was expressed for months afterward. The way they said it had the power to make a simple train ride seem dirty.
From that time on, the reporter who covered one of the most important speeches in this century was always looked down on by the paper's veteran reporters.
One night, I was sent down to the South Side to cover the funeral of the singer Sam Cooke. He was one of the greatest singers of his time and his records still sell. It was winter. The temperature was below freezing.
I phoned back to the city desk to alert the newsroom that the church was jammed and that the streets were filled with mourners for a full block.
I was a young reporter then and this seemed to me a tremendous human- interest story. Certainly, the paper would want pictures. They would want a full story.
But the answer from the city desk came back: "Just keep your eye on it in case a riot breaks out. Otherwise, we don't want any story."
I was assigned to cover King when he marched through the streets of Chicago every day for a week in his open- housing crusade.
The marches were large, boisterous and actually great fun. King was in the front line with Ralph Abernathy and Dick Gregory, the comedian.
But during each march there were one or two stretches where you could expect rocks and bottles to fly.
I wasn't surprised by that. In those days, you expected to find racism. Nobody was shocked because it was something that we were all about to overcome.
That was in the early 1960s. On Sunday, we all saw Governor Rose Mofford admitting to a national television audience that she was the titular head of a racist state.
I covered race riots in Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland. They were terrifying. I saw things I don't want to remember.
It wasn't until I covered a huge riot which occurred in Chicago's Grant Park that I learned something that makes whites and blacks different. A musical group called Sly and the Family Stone walked off the stage and refused to play for a crowd of better than 30,000 rock fans.
The crowd attacked the stage and set fire to all the cars in the area. The police moved in and began clubbing the rioters without mercy. Whenever they grabbed a white kid and began clubbing him, the kid would set up a tremendous howl of pain.
But when they grabbed the black kids and threw them to the pavement and clubbed them, you never heard a sound.
Black people are used to pain. They are brought up getting kicked around. So they don't cry easily.
Maybe that's why most of the moaning and groaning over the failure to pass a Martin Luther King Day is being done by white columnists and white talk- show hosts. White people are used to having their own way.
Most of the black people who live in Arizona never have their own way. And besides, they don't have the money to pay their way to the Super Bowl or the Fiesta Bowl.
They are realists. They understand that all the millions supposed to flow into Arizona's coffers from those events will be sopped up long before it reaches them.
They are disappointed about the holiday, of course. But they have time. They learned a long time ago about waiting.
I experienced the same sick feeling about this Mecham/Hawkins/Sanders- driven vote that I had one time on an airplane flight.
I was covering the Chicago Cubs. We were riding a chartered plane to open a series against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
There were four seats facing each other with a card table in between. The seats were taken by three sportswriters and Ernie Banks, still the Cubs star at that time.
One of the writers was reading about the murder the day before of eight student nurses by the crazed Richard Speck.
Another writer looked up from his cards and said: "My God, how awful. Were they white?"
I looked out the window and pretended not to hear. So did everyone else, including Banks.
At that moment, I was ashamed to be white. I couldn't look Banks in the eye.
I felt the same way the other morning when it turned out Arizona had turned down the King holiday.
Evan Mecham and his gang got their revenge, after all. I sincerely hope they choke on it.
We all saw Governor Rose Mofford admitting to a national television audience that she was the titular head of a racist state.
Arizona's black people understand that all the millions from the Super Bowl and Fiesta Bowl will be sopped up long before it reaches them.
Most of the moaning and groaning over the failure to pass the King Day is being done by white columnists and white talk-show hosts.
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