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A day 'on'
The National Slavery Museum could be a venue for discussing where the region is--and should be--in terms of Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream.

 Visit the Photo Place
Date published: 1/19/2004

Dr. King's day shouldn't be considered just another holiday from work, school

TODAY IS A HOLIDAY for many folks, meaning no work if you're an adult, and no school if you're a kid. But many African-American organizations have a better way of looking at the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday: Don't consider it a day "off," says Bowling Green's Linda Thomas, recently named president of the Virginia NAACP; think of it as a day "on." A day to make a difference in helping the community work toward being more inclusive. A day to try to find "common denominators" among your neighbors. A day to talk about subjects that may not be easy to bring up in "polite" conversation but that nonetheless are important lest this holiday just become another day to flop.

This is also a day of history, and it's important to recognize that. While Dr. King and his contemporaries--including the late James Farmer, who lived in Spotsylvania County and taught at Mary Washington College--laid the groundwork for social change, more attention should be paid to those who came before. Historians and re-enactors in this area are well-schooled in the Civil War. But Mrs. Thomas, who has taken part in such re-enactments, thinks more needs to be said about the plight of African-Americans during that time--slaves and freemen.

In this connection, let's hope the planned National Slavery Museum can shed generous light on this part of our history. It seems easier around here to talk about the bloody battles of the Civil War than to conjure up images of shackles and bullwhips. Maybe that's because there's nothing glorious in men owning men.

When the museum is up and running, it would be a good site for community discussions on race relations. A place of scholars, history, and thoughts of "how things were" perhaps could help all of us to put in motion a plan of "how things can be." No one should mistake this for a happy-go-lucky debate, though. To work, it would need courageous leaders willing to prod sometimes dispar-ate groups of people into opening up.

But our community could handle it. We've done a good job talking about some of these issues at the "Building Bridges" events held by local churches. And Mrs. Thomas even found that folks were willing to talk candidly about race relations during the hullabaloo over a Caroline County multicultural monument.

So instead of contemplating what you can watch on TV today, consider how the Fredericksburg area can work toward breaking down old barriers. Dr. King had the dream, but we all can help it become reality.