“My Mother and MLK” by Beverly Lafontaine
My Mother and MLK
It was December 1955, and my mother, always a lady but true to her thoughts, reacted with surprise when America’s newscaster, Gabriel Heatter, spoke the name of the newly-appointed leader of the Montgomery bus boycott. My mother, she of the good manners, the pragmatic mind, the well-laid plan faithfully executed, also valued a starched blouse, thin and impermeable, the silken skirt, fanned from the lap’s throne. Not he, the preacher’s son, 17 years her junior. She remembered too well the little bean-head boy with whom she had to share the car’s rear seat once a month when she was a teenager. He was a jumping jack, a whirligig of comet energy as the car chugged its way through Birmingham to his father’s church, and how she dreaded those Sundays in the back seat. That day in 1955, Heatter’s 15-minute broadcast was loud and clear to the land: Negroes are rising, boycotting the buses of Montgomery, and their leader is young and cunning with a voice so sonorous bells will cease their clanging. His name is Martin Luther King, Jr. “That brat,” my mother muttered through pursed lips, as we all leaned into the radio’s speaker, hope alive.
Did cherry trees bloom
in Montgomery that year?
How long must we wait?
Beverly Lafontaine is a Los Angeles-born poet and playwright. She has enjoyed four productions of her plays in the Los Angeles area and has had her poetry published in various poetry journals and anthologies, including Blue Satellite, Spillway, So Luminous the Wildflowers: An Anthology of California Poets, and most recently, Beyond the Lyric Moment. Four of her poems will appear in Waves, the forthcoming anthology of women's voices, published by the A Room of Her Own Foundation. As a collaborative artist, she has worked with composer Tom Flaherty to create The Cellist of Sarajevo, a chamber music piece. Additionally, she was commissioned to create six poems that were incorporated into the sculptural work of Walk a Mile in My Shoes, a public art project dedicated to Martin Luther King and sponsored by the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. As a journalist, she has written for publications as wide-ranging as Essence Magazine, Soul Magazine, and Caesura: the Journal for the San Jose Center for Poetry and Literature.
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