FAIRFIELD — Even though Solano Community College professor Karen McCord was only 10 when the Rev. Marin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, it left a lasting impression that fueled her ambitions as an adult.
The ethnic studies professor, who lived in New York at the time, said her mother wanted to go to the March on Washington in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 1963 – 50 years ago Wednesday. But her father, who was from Birmingham, Ala., nixed the idea, fearing violence.
McCord remembered a heated conversation between her parents.
“There was just so much fear of something negative happening there,” McCord said. ”(Not going) remains one of my mother’s biggest regrets.”
Fifty years after the 1963 demonstration for jobs, economic justice and racial equality, Solano County residents look back and look ahead.
On the whole, local residents who discussed racial equality and King’s dream with the Daily Republic said that the nation has come a long way in those 50 years, with Solano County as an example.
Mayrene Bates, a governing board member for the Solano County Office of Education, remembered her move into a Begonia Boulevard home in the early 1970s. She and her husband were told by the Realtor that he wouldn’t have been able to sell to them, as a black family, a few years earlier.
“If we (were looking) there five years earlier, the guy said, ‘If you had come here (then) I could not have sold you this house,’ ” Bates said. “We were just driving by looking and this guy was putting up signs.”
A short time after moving to Fairfield, Bates landed a teaching job at Fairview Elementary School – a thumbs up from her with regard to racial equality in the area.
“I have to give Solano County good marks in my books for race relations,” she said.
Lori Wilson, a Suisun City council member, said Solano County is diverse and that the county has racial equality. She said the way she looks at diversity is if there is a fair representation of everyone. She said she sees that representation in schools and government.
“When you look at what is the face of diversity, it is the people we choose to represent us,” she said.
Deloris Roach, a political activist and local business owner, said she thinks the county is doing “OK” with race relations. She added that more needs to be done for young people, “especially young people of color.” Unlike Wilson, she’s not convinced that local leadership is diverse enough because the county is a “minority-majority county, except for a couple of cities.”
“(We need) to increase the diversity of leadership all across the board, whether it’s business or institutions, whatever you can name . . . and elected office.”
Solano College’s McCord moved to the area in 1976 and said things are better these days than they were back in the mid-1970s.
“When I first moved here there were the remnants . . . subtle, not overt things,” she said. She said people from Solano County who don’t leave the county tend to believe the rest of the world “is a very diverse place.”
“We are one of the most diverse counties,” she said. “The diversity that is in Solano County doesn’t necessarily exist in other parts of the world. You have to get out of Solano County to see that every place isn’t as diverse as we are.”
Local opinions are as diverse as Solano County when considering whether King’s dream has been realized on this anniversary of the March on Washington.
Bates didn’t mince words when she said, “I think he would be a little disappointed in us.”
“We’ve become a little complacent and that isn’t the way life is,” she said. “You’re always moving forward or you’re going backward. When I look around today, it seems as if we’re going backward instead of forward and I just think he would possibly be disappointed in all of us. When I say all of us, I mean all colors, all races . . . we’re not moving forward and living together as he dreamed we would.”
She would like the “taboo” lifted when it comes to talking about race, as well.
“I think it’s ridiculous that at this time in our history, it’s such a taboo subject,” she said. “We’re never going to get to that place if we continue to be afraid to talk about our feelings.”
Wilson looked at the issue from another angle – that of her 14-year-old daughter. She sees her daughter mix with other races regularly – something that wasn’t really done at the time of King’s speech and the March on Washington.
“I look at my daughter and her friends . . . racism is so far from their minds,” she said. “They are far removed from the residue.”
She said that as an institution, “we don’t have racism,” but agreed that among individuals, despite her daughter’s experience, “there are still pockets of racism.”
“We put in laws and policy to combat institutionalized racism,” she said. “We still have to combat individual racism and that’s going to take another lifetime. If you separate the two, we have definitely realized his dream.”
Wilson said this is a “wonderful time” to look back 50 years and see the progress.
“In the next 50 years, when we reach 100 years, hopefully we’ll be looking at it so distant, it (will be) like a picture on the wall,” she said. “Sometimes that’s an analogy I use when something is so distant, or when it’s so far removed, that all you have left is the picture. I’m hoping (that’s where we’ll be) when we reach the 100 mark.”
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.