Archive for January, 2014

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr. – 1964 at the Jasper city pool

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I grew up in Louisville, a beautiful city situated along the Ohio River in north-central Kentucky.  Kentucky was a border state during the Civil War.  As such, it shares characteristics of both the north and the south.  Louisville is more Midwestern than southern and has much in common with the Ohio River cities of Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.  From Louisville, traveling only 80 miles eastward to the city of Lexington, where I attended the University of Kentucky, transports one into the Deep South.   The contrast is remarkable.

My parents divorced when I was five.  Shortly afterwards, my older brother went to live with mom’s parents in southeastern Kentucky.  I stayed with mom, whose earnings as a nurse’s aide barely kept us afloat.  During the summer, when school was out, I was shipped off to spend several weeks with family. My summers were split between visiting my grandparents in southeastern Kentucky and staying with family in northern Alabama.

In the little town of Jasper, Alabama, I could enjoy time with my cousins under the loving eye of my mom’s older sister, Aunt Bette.  I have many fond memories of the warm summer days there, fishing, digging in the large vegetable garden, playing ball and frolicking with my cousin Philip.  Philip and I spent  many a day at Jasper’s city swimming pool, only a few blocks from Aunt Bette’s house.  To me, life in Jasper was something akin to living in television’s fanciful town of Mayberry.  The image will resonate for those who remember the Andy Griffith Show.

Traveling to Alabama was a fascinating experience for a young boy.  I usually went by train on the Louisville and Nashville (L&N) Railroad.  My maternal grandmother Myrtle would accompany me back and forth.  My granddad Jim was a locomotive engineer for the L&N, so he and granny enjoyed free travel by rail.

Union Station in Louisville was a behemoth mixture of wrought iron,  granite, polished marble and stained glass—a magnificent structure. There we boarded the Pan American express for our journey.  The ride to Alabama took us through Nashville to our final stop in Birmingham.  Aunt Bette’s husband, my dear Uncle John, would meet us at the Birmingham station.  From there it was a short drive to Jasper and my summer residence.

The contrast between Midwest and Deep South was remarkable, even for a young lad.  It was immediately evident upon entering the train station in Birmingham.  Unlike the station in Louisville, Birmingham’s was filled with the signs of a racially segregated south.  There were separate drinking fountains, restrooms and waiting areas marked “whites only” and “colored only.”  The first time I walked into the Birmingham station, my Midwestern mind didn’t get it. Granny tried to explain to me what segregation was all about, but the cruelty of what I was seeing didn’t register with my young brain.

Outside the station was more evidence.  There were cabs for “coloreds” along with movie theaters, restaurants, bars, barber shops, benches at the bus stops, and dozens of other examples.  As I would later find out, there were also schools and yes—even swimming pools designated for “colored only.”

Unbeknownst to me, the city pool in Jasper was for white people only.  At least that’s how it was during my first two summers there.  This changed on July 2, 1964, when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became the law of the land.  I was much too young to understand the full impact of what was going on, but I was fortunate to witness firsthand a piece of history in the making. I still remember it clearly.

I was at the city pool when the first test of the new Civil Rights Act occurred.   On a sunny afternoon in August, a lone young black man wearing a t-shirt and swimming trunks entered the pool area.  With many of the whites staring in various states of confusion and disbelief, the man walked to the grassy area at the deep end of the pool where he spread out his towel on the ground

No one knew it at the time, but the brave man who dared venture into the formerly whites only swimming pool was handpicked for the task.  After removing his shirt and sandals, he headed straight for the high dive.  He climbed the ladder, confidently walked towards the end of the diving board and proceeded to perform a perfect one and one-half somersault into the water.  Swimming to the ladder, he exited the water and made another beeline for the diving board.

Over the next few minutes, the young man put on a mesmerizing display of diving, with each twisting and turning dive seeming more difficult than the preceding one.  While the young man was performing, everyone watching (myself included) seemed unaware of the dozen or more young blacks entering the pool area. Everyone was enjoying the show.  When the show finally ended, everyone simply went back to what they were doing before.  Amazing!

It was in this simple way that segregation peacefully ended at the city pool in Jasper, Alabama.  At least that’s how I remember it.  Unfortunately, desegregation didn’t occur as smoothly in many other places.  Fifty years later, I’m glad to live in a country where a person’s color isn’t as important as the “content of their character.”1 We still have much room for improvement, but we have steadily advanced the cause that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave so much for—even his life.  May our nation never turn back!

“We are only what we are in the dark; all the rest is reputation. What God looks at is what we are in the dark—the imaginations of our minds; the thoughts of our heart; the habits of our bodies; these are the things that mark us in God’s sight.”  —Oswald Chambers

1”I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”   —Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A New Year’s Resolution Worth Keeping

New Years Eve Time Square

“Exercise is labor without weariness.”  —Samuel Johnson

Exercise is an important part of my life that was ingrained during a 24-year career in the U.S. Army.  I enjoy a good workout and feel out of sorts when I go too long without exercising.  In January there are always a lot of new faces in my local fitness center—mostly folks who made a new year’s resolution to exercise and lose weight.

Moving into February the numbers dwindle and by March, few of the new faces are still around.  We humans are great at making promises to ourselves that we never keep.  This year I’ve made a resolution worth keeping and it’s not the usual “lose some weight.”   Instead, I’m going to slow down.

“Adopt the pace of nature.  Her secret is patience.”  —Ralph Waldo Emerson

An Army career often requires one to maintain a “hair on fire” pace for long periods of time.  Mine was no exception. After retiring from the service, I continued the fast pace in my civilian work.  I can recall my mom continually advising me to slow down, but I never made an attempt to comply until fairly recently.  A couple of years ago I came to a realization that there are better ways to spend one’s time than to dash about in a frenzy trying to get as much done as humanly possible.

Slowing down doesn’t mean getting lazy, however.   It’s more about tempering the urgency in life and finding balance.  If I succeed at this, there won’t be sufficient time to do everything I might be inclined to do.   Therefore, I aim to re-evaluate what’s important in my life and then do my best to focus on the things that matter, while sweeping aside the trivial.

“The whole point of getting things done is knowing what to leave undone.”   —Oswald Chambers

I’ve been thinking about some of the things I can sweep aside this year.  Television ranks high on the list.  As my wife often reminds me, I watch some fairly mindless shows with no redeeming social value. Shows like ”Man vs. Food” come to mind.  If you’re not familiar with it, check it out on the Travel Channel website.  It’s about a fellow who travels the country seeking “pig out” restaurants  (

The “Colbert Report” is also on my “fuggedaboutit” TV list.   I enjoy the show immensely, but it truly is mindless entertainment.  There are others, but I’ll spare you the laundry list.

“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”  —William Penn

As a management consultant, I periodically presented time management seminars.  They were very well received by every audience. Unfortunately, I constantly find myself violating the time management techniques I know to be effective.   I aim to be more disciplined with my time this year.

One of the best techniques I know to save time is by turning off the TV.  Limiting time on Facebook and other unproductive Internet sites is also advisable.  Avoiding web surfing and clicking links on the web pages one must visit will also save an enormous amount of time.

I’m also going to avoid checking emails and messages on my phone every few minutes.  At present, I’m an email version of Pavlov’s dog—grabbing my cell phone every time an email or text message alert beeps.  (For those struggling with time management, the website has a simple, 10-step approach to help you get on track

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”  —Groucho Marx

By reducing the time spent in front of the boob tube and on unproductive websites, I hope to make some time for reading.  I’m not talking about casual reading either.  Gibbon’s classic The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire has been sitting on my bookshelf for about three years.  This year I plan to dust it off and dive in.  I’m also going to try to read or reread several books by C.S. Lewis.

“Prayer does not equip us for the greater work, it is the greater work.” —Oswald Chambers

At the top of my “to do” list for 2014, however, is spending more time in the scriptures and prayer. Prayer is work and I plan to work a lot in this new year.   Romans 12:12 advises us, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (ESV).  Now that’s a new year’s resolution worth keeping.

Divine Simplicity: Focus on the things that matter…sweep aside the things that don’t.