When Delores McCain was informed that this story would run one day late for black history month, she did not object. “Every day is black history month to me,” she said.
As a young woman in the 1960’s, McCain, a Forest Park resident, participated in the March on Washington with Martin Luther King Jr. and lived through both John and Bobby Kennedy’s and Malcolm X’s assassinations. While McCain was very aware of these events, she said she didn’t realize she was witnessing a part of history.
Like many of us, our day to day lives overwhelm our connection to historical events, even if they are going on as we speak. Over time, however, McCain began to see the influence of these events on her life and how much influence an individual truly possesses.
Though McCain appreciates the attention that black history receives in February, the black experience, she said, must be lived every day to truly experience it. With some races, you can’t tell their ethnicity, but for blacks, their ethnicity is spoken for them. Still, after all McCain has experienced she sees hopes for racial equality in America.
“Like most things, change will only emerge once each person realizes they can make a difference,” she said. “If each person simply finds a way to reach out and warm their heart, they can make a difference.”
McCain is still baffled that America has seemingly defied all logic regarding race relations ” advancing in some ways and simultaneously moving backwards. McCain has seen some positives ” she points to the involvement of young hip-hop artists and other young people actively participating in the voting process as a definite step in the right direction. She has also seen better cultural exchanges between races that have led to more learning, communicating, and consequently more understanding.
Still, McCain does not see the same level of caring that existed in the 1960’s and she points to drugs as the major impetus behind this problem.
“Drugs really are everyone’s problem and continue to cause a large amount of trouble in race relations,” she said. “Of course, you hear a lot more about drugs being in minority communities because typically a minority is not able to make bond or pay for lawyers, but the problem really is everywhere. I think drugs have led to many young people to have a sincere lack of caring. Do they care or know about the atrocities in Darfur? Do they even know where Darfur is? Do they know about the problems their grandparents are facing with Medicaid?”
But the lack knowledge among today’s youth on current events is just the tip of the iceberg for McCain. Really, the problem with American society and how we relate to each other, she says, boils down to involvement, or lack thereof. She believes that people prioritize the wrong things in life, like monetary gain, rather than concentrating on evolving as a society. McCain wishes that the lessons she learned during the civil rights movement, such as honestly addressing things in a straight-forward manner were the rule, rather than the exception.
“The solution really isn’t very complicated,” she said. “A person can get involved with their friends and really began to create change. They don’t have to wait for Jesse Jackson to tell them to get involved in the hurricane Katrina relief effort, for instance. You and your friends can say we are going to help and do something about it. That is how you do things. I believe 90 percent of society consists of good people, but if we aren’t involved and don’t communicate we will continually be stuck on stupid.”
Fighting against being ‘stuck on stupid’ may be why McCain first became involved in the civil rights movement. McCain was born and raised in Milwaukee and points to the influential priest, Father Groppi, as an example of how involvement could create change. Groppi was one of the first people to use the media as well as demonstration to give immediacy to the plight of inner city residents and the effects of segregation.
Following Groppi’s lead, McCain participated in the March on Washington in 1963, and even after she and her family moved to Chicago in 1967, she continued to build on the lessons she learned about racial equality to help erase many of the prejudices that existed at that time. Still, nobody could have prepared her for the assassination of Dr. King on April 4, 1968.
“I think most black people felt like someone in their family died when they heard about Dr. King being killed,” she said. “I will never forget the night he was murdered. I was on Roosevelt at Dave’s Hot Dog stand and the news came on the radio that Dr. King had been shot. Then at 7:06 they announced he had passed.
After that, many people had a clock in their house that they left at 7:06, because that was the time Dr. King was killed ” just so they would never forget.”
McCain also knew upon hearing the horrible news that all hell would soon break loose within the black community, and she was right. Once again, McCain would find herself as part of history. McCain vividly recalls spending half of the evening watching the fires and being dismayed that blacks were destroying buildings and property in their own neighborhoods.
“There was a very nice antique store off of Holemen Avenue and Madison that was burnt down,” she said. “That store was never rebuilt and really that area has never regained the status it once possessed. Every time I walk by there I think of that store and if other people realize that it was once a thriving part of the city.”
After King died McCain said her goal was to try and keep the civil rights movement alive, even if it had been struck a major blow. Still, after moving to Forest Park in 1970, McCain said she did not experience nearly as much racism as she did in other areas. Thanks to progressive thinking citizens in Oak Park and Forest Park, race relations are much better than other places. McCain attributes the tolerance and acceptance she felt to good lessons taught at home.
“Citizens here wanted to be ahead of curve, and I also think there are many educated people here,” she said. “Really, it all comes down how you were raised. A person doesn’t have to be wealthy they just have to be taught the right lessons by their parents. In Oak Park and Forest Park, you had more people of the same mindset and they didn’t want to live in a divided mindset. I was taught that nothing was white but snow and nothing was black but coal by my parents and I think that lesson has served me well.”
McCain now writes for the Austin Weekly News, which is published by Wednesday Journal, Inc., the same company that publishes the Forest Park Review.