I’ll Remember You

beacon

The seas between us have roared and swelled since auld lang syne.

 With 2015 hours away, I’m still coming to terms with the fact that 1964 was fifty years ago. So much happened that year. Congress passed perhaps the most significant piece of legislation of the twentieth century, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But at age six, that was not so much on my mind.

Here are some things that were.

The British Invasion in February. The Beatles appeared for the first time on the Ed Sullivan Show, a program my family never missed. It was exciting to have them in America. Like other American girls, I was already a fan. My friend, Barbara Jean Youngblood, had received a Beatles wig—a gift I coveted— for Christmas a little over a month earlier. Santa had brought me a red plastic Beatles guitar, with John, Paul, George and Ringo’s heads pictured on the front. I roamed around the house singing loudly and strumming tunelessly, to the everlasting distraction of my parents.

A Hard Day’s Night, the film, made its American debut. That September, Barbara Jean’s mother took us to see it at the ornate Beacon Theater in downtown Hopewell. Of the movie, mostly what I remember are the Beatles, running madcap from one location to another, their twangy guitar music in the background.

This fall, Kevin and I watched The Beatles Anthology on Netflix. Along with everything else, the documentary covered A Hard Day’s Night, and I found that my recollection was pretty much right on the money. There was a lot of running around haphazardly, making it the perfect movie for a six-year old.

Even more than the movie, I recall Barbara Jean, and how she said with her characteristic bravery, “Let’s sit in the balcony.”

The balcony! I’d always wanted to sit in the balcony, but the ushers had always frowned on it, why, I couldn’t guess, and my parents never really explained. So when Barbara Jean suggested it, I was all in. For reasons not clear to me, the ushers were nowhere in sight and up we went. The view was fabulous, and we could gaze down at all of Hopewell, wave to people we knew. Why had we not been sitting in the front row of the balcony all our lives?

Only later would I understand that it had something to do with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Prior to its passage that July, the balconies of the south had been relegated to blacks. Mixing was discouraged. “Colored” entrances, colored water fountains, or “No Coloreds” at all. Now here we sat, two little smock-dressed girls, perfectly at home amid a sea of mostly black faces. Faces who would spend years gaining the same confidence to enter areas now legislatively available to them.

Bigger to me than the Civil Rights Act and even the Beatles, were the Peanuts characters come to life on television for the first time. Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Schroeder, Snoopy, Pigpen, and the rest of the Peanuts gang, pitter-pattering from the football field to the Christmas tree lot, Christmas carols rising from mouths pointed toward the heavens. All set to the moody, spare piano of Vince Guaraldi, now gone. How my mother, also gone now, loved it. And how like almost every other American boomer kid, we looked forward to it every year. Some of the commercials are just as vivid. Norelco electric razors (Noelco for the holidays), risqué English Leather aftershave—All my men wear English Leather. Or they wear nothing at all. And of course, the Thalhimer’s and Miller & Rhoads commercials, old time Richmond department stores, now history.

So clear is the memory of the Lundquist family— Dad 37, Mom 34, Conway 10, me 6, Will 4 and Laura 1— scattered about on the sofas, rocking chairs, and avocado green wall to wall carpet, in front of our first-ever color TV. Another 5 years would find us in roughly the same places, watching Neil Armstrong take one giant step for mankind.

A half a century. Gone in the blink of an eye. The Lundquist kids are grown, our childhood now fifty years in the past. Mom and Dad are gone. The Fab Four are down to two. Race riots dominated the news this holiday season. Real progress takes its slow time.But the Beacon Theater has been restored, the Peanuts special just celebrated its 50th anniversary, and Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack still makes radio waves this time of year.

1964. I’ll remember you fondly.

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Reaching for the Moon

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We hadn’t intended to visit the Memorial after dark; I wasn’t even sure the capitol grounds were open that late, but other people meandered up the lamp lit sidewalks, so we crossed over the shadowy lawn.

In the short time we had, I wanted to show Kevin the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial that claims its unlikely real estate on Capitol Square outside the gates of the executive mansion of what was, once, the Capital of the Confederacy. The sculpture tells the story of 16-year old Barbara Johns, who led her fellow students in a walkout to protest separate—and very much unequal—conditions at Robert R. Moton High School in Farmville, Virginia in 1951. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 waited thirteen long years in the future.

What followed the walkout was a lawsuit that eventually joined with four other cases to become the landmark Brown v. Board of Education, in which the United States Supreme Court struck down the separate but equal racial doctrine.

“It seemed like reaching for the moon,” said Ms. Johns, and looking back, it was. Following this court decision, powerful US Senator Harry F. Byrd, from Virginia, rallied over 100 others around his “Southern Manifesto,” which opposed racial integration. Byrd and his followers had no need of white hoods; they were duly elected American lawmakers.  They launched their “Massive Resistance” campaign, and in 1959, Prince Edward County closed all its public schools rather than integrate them.

I was in junior high school when Virginia schools were finally integrated in 1971, 20 years after the Moton High School walkout.

In 2008, Kevin and I attended a concert in Richmond and watched as then Governor Tim Kaine took the stage with Dave Matthews.   A Virginia governor was introducing a white man from South Africa, both of them campaigning to elect the man who would become the first African-American president of the United States.   It felt surreal in the best of ways. Here we stood, just blocks away from the avenue that is home to  larger than life statues of men who fought an entire war to prevent just such a thing from happening.

Back at the Civil Rights Memorial, Kevin and I soaked in this dark yet hopeful chapter of race relations in Virginia while the students of Moton High School stood before us in bronze relief, Barbara Johns’ arm raised skyward. As we turned to make our way back to the car,  a quarter moon cast its glow above the rooftops of the city. We took one last look over our shoulder to see Ms. Johns, forever reaching.