This week, there were countless observations and celebrations of the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I wasn’t alive at the time, so I can’t give any personal reflections of how life was prior to that signing. I’ve heard countless stories that were told by people living then. Some were good, and some were not so good. The history books gives us all kinds of insight to how difficult life was for some Americans during that time.
I didn’t actively participate or watch any of the celebrations this past week. It was spring break week, and I tried to enjoy time with my family. In doing that, I unknowingly ended up being an active participant anyway. Here’s the story of how that transpired.
Friday afternoon, the family packed up and headed to LEGOLAND® Discovery Center, located in Phipps Plaza in Atlanta, GA. We had a blast, and if you’ve never been there before, it’s worth the trip to see it at least once. There’s two different rides to go on inside. There’s also a miniature layout of Atlanta on display with detailed and authentic looking replicas of local landmarks and buildings. Walking through there brought out the kid in me, and I know my oldest enjoyed it because she didn’t want to leave.
After leaving there, we walked across the walkway to eat at Johnny Rockets, which is a hamburger restaurant that’s styled like the old-styled diners from the 1950s. When we sat down, the waitress gave us a nickel to select a song from the jukebox located right in front of us. That led to an explanation of what a jukebox was and how it worked to my very inquisitive 5-year-old. We decided upon Aretha Franklin’s Respect as our song of choice and then proceeded on with dinner.
What happened towards the end of our dinner changed the entire complex of our experience that day and my view of things around me. My daughter would ask if our song was playing from time to time, so she was excited when I told her that our song was coming on. No sooner than the first 5 notes came across, someone turned the music up loud, and the entire staff behind the counter broke out in a dance routine. Both of my girls saw them dancing and proceeded to join in with them. The 14 month old didn’t stop dancing after that song until I put her in her stroller, which was some 15 to 20 minutes later. People walking by seemed to be affected by their energy as well as there were nothing but smiles from everyone around.
When I was putting the little one in the stroller, that’s when reality hit me in the face. We had sat down at a “lunch counter”, and proceeded to enjoy a meal like anyone else. There was no need to fear any repercussions for that act. The staff behind the counter all appeared to be of Hispanic origin, but I didn’t want to intrude into personal territory. Fifty years ago, a Black family would not have eaten at a lunch counter in an upscale shopping area without a substantial protest with serious threats involved. The girls were completely oblivious to this as things seemed perfectly normal and right to them.
I felt a sense of joy when I thought about how much this country has changed for the better since the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. I knew that, somewhere, those who gave their lives in the struggle for civil rights were smiling, clapping, and dancing along with my little girls that afternoon, enjoying the fruits of their labor. That brought a smile and a sense of well-being to me as we departed the mall for home that evening. Many times, we tend to ignore the small gains because the long-term goal seems way out of reach. This experience taught me to stop every now and then and enjoy the small things as they all add up to great big things when all is said and done.