As I watch CNN covering celebrations and preparations, I can't help but reflect on my memories of a past Martin Luther King Day and Presidential Inauguration. On January 19, 1961, I came out of the Smithsonian Museum and walked into a snowstorm of unexpected proportions. The 53 mile ride to Baltimore, MD, where I was staying took about four and one-half hours. It was my first trip to Washington, and I was there to march with my high school band in President John F. Kennedy's inaugural parade. We were relatively privileged white teenagers representing our state in the parade. Only in retrospect can I come close to appreciating how lucky I was to have experienced part of history. It was not my last trip to Washington, D.C.
On January 17, 2000, I participated in another march. This time it was not as cold, nor as long. There were no television cameras, and the surrounding structures were not the grand marble edifices of Washington, DC: They were humble structures of wood, some boarded up, others housing families within their thin walls and patched windows. I was participating in the MLK march in a north Louisiana town, and I was honored to be asked to speak to the assembled marchers when we stopped halfway for a few minutes rest and a cold drink. Probably for the first time I realized how Dr. King's struggle applied to me: he worked for equality for all people, gender as well as race. As a child and adolescent I was aware of the racial divide in my part of the country; it was only as a young, single mother with two toddlers that I realized that the divide also included gender. I told my fellow marchers how my participation that day was the fulfillment of my own personal dream; and it was my chance to say thank you to many people who gave their all to make the world I live in a better place.
Between January 1961 and January 2000, I had the opportunity to participate in events and have experiences that would not have been open to me as a single white woman had it not been for Dr. King and his followers. But how could the fight for racial equality affect me? Part of the answer comes from the fact that the civil and cultural changes effected by Dr. King's dream and his action applied to all Americans, not just those of color. The career opportunities that I have had as a woman did not exist in 1961, or even in 1967 when I graduated college.
Now, what does any of this have to do with art? Everything! Only in a society where all people have the confidence of personal integrity, appreciation of diversity, and exposure to myriad arts and crafts, are we free to pursue our dreams and express our souls in tangible work peculiar to each of us. As I watch the 44th President of the United States assume his duties tomorrow, I will be planning my next piece, a statement of positive energy and unified hope. As this nation is a unique assemblage of mismatched fabrics and a variety of fibers, my textile art will reflect the facets of my vision of beauty and peace for all.