As the New Year begins, I am reminded that my father, Wallace Ford Sr., was born on January 2, 1922. Had he lived past his 73rd year, he would be 97 years old. He was one of the unheralded members of the so-called Greatest Generation. And the word “so-called” is used intentionally because of the virtually monochromatic description of that generation employed by Tom Brokaw and so many others who purposefully and intentionally chose to ignore the black men and women who were in many ways the reason that Generation was great.
My father’s parents left North Carolina as teenagers to seek the very obvious better opportunity in New York than in a state where the Ku Klux Klan and lynching and Jim Crow oppression was simply a way of life. And the parents of the brothers and sisters of my father’s generation also journeyed to Chicago, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh and anyplace but the former Confederate states. And my father and his generational brothers and sisters did not simply endure the ubiquitous discrimination and prejudice outside and within the South, they prevailed.
The almost (but not) forgotten black members of the Greatest Generation went into the military and made history as they helped America win World War II. Their sisters went to work in shops and stores and factories and changed the face of the American workforce. And in the times after the Great Depression and World War II at Tuskegee and Montford Point and so many other places that are hidden in the shadows of history, they made a way for themselves even though the racism in America’s DNA did not surrender opportunity easily. And in making a way in this brave new world they endorsed and supported and joined the next phase of the civil rights movement that had begun one hundred years earlier. And in revealing the determination and persistence and sheer will of their fathers and grandmothers and ancestors, they were able to see the obvious signs of prejudice fade and in some ways, disappear. And all this while their little girls and boys were cursed and spat upon for daring to go to grade school. And all this while their icons and heroes and heroines were killed before their very eyes. And all this while the likes of Faubus and Wallace and Stennis and Bilbo paraded their hate in full view of the world.
And these black members of the Greatest Generation also raised a generation of sons and daughters who were taught and trained and encouraged to seize opportunities that never existed. These sons and daughters went to colleges and universities. These sons and daughters became lawyers and bankers and doctors and entrepreneurs and governors and mayors – and most importantly they became mothers and fathers determined to fulfill the dreams of all who came before and those who would come after.
Those dreams have yet to be totally fulfilled. They continue the battle, they continue to struggle and they struggle to make the dreams of that Greatest Generation come true.
And as this New Year begins it is important to keep those dreams alive and to remember as it was for the Greatest Generation, it is true for us – dreams can come true.
Happy Birthday Dad.