Its importance cannot be overstated. It is likely the closest thing the south has to a memorial for those wronged by hatred and bigotry. It cannot be replaced.
Malcolm Steadman will buy a gun in 56 days.
The Center for Civil and Human Rights houses exhibits open to the public that enrich and educate. It mourns, and champions those who fought and died during the start of the civil rights movement. Yes, the start. This is not something that happened in the 1960’s, it is ongoing, and the center is right to remind you of that.
The tragedy of the Birmingham bombing is tastefully mourned by stained glass, a window for each girl lost to the atrocity. The bravery of those who took part in sit-ins and the freedom buses can be felt through an interactive experience that is both intense and informative. The bottom floor hosts actual writings and correspondences from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his associates.
There is a deep societal wound from bigotry and racism. The scars of slavery and the Civil War are actually lacerations that have barely been covered. This facility, and the people behind it, are actively trying to heal those wounds. They turn bystanders into upstanders. They teach peace and love despite the lack of justice. They do this without thanks.
It is a severe understatement to say that the Center for Civil and Human Rights is important.
…And it shares a lawn with the Coca-Cola factory.
Karen ate her yogurt tentatively, the reassuring bulk of a Taser clung to her thigh in her pant’s pocket. Malcolm continued.
“It’s like, right across from it, The Center I mean. This vastly important museum that frankly should be in every town in America sits right across from the most trivial god damn exhibit that could possibly exist!” said Malcolm, his hair looking more matted than usual.
This was a strange friendship, if “friendship” was indeed what it was. The two had spent their first ten minute break a day together for a little over a week now. Karen would eat her breakfast, and listen. This is what she figured Malcolm needed most, someone who would listen. Malcolm would rant. Sometimes he was poignant, sometimes he was absurd, sometimes he was insightful and absurd, but always he would rant. He would rant, but never about himself.
That was okay. There needed to be trust first before he would open up about his personal life. Seeing as there was a high voltage defense weapon in Karen’s pocket, trust was not a one-sided thing.
“Can you believe that?” Malcolm asked with wild eyebrows. “Dr. King’s own hand written letters, one even written while he was in jail. He quoted Plato by memory when he wrote it. It is probably one of the greatest documents written in the 1960’s and it shares a lawn with a tourist trap for corporate sugar-water!”
Karen spooned a glob of her breakfast out of it’s plastic container and placed the tip of her spoon in her mouth. She could believe it, but said nothing. The plain yogurt was on odd contrast to Malcolm’s eccentricities.
A week ago, she almost did not approach him. She almost let him be. But then he was late to work, hours late. It was hard to admit how much this scared her. She kept running brutal vignettes in her mind of Malcolm showing up with a newly shaven head and a polished shotgun, ready to terminate more than calls. When this had not given her enough anxiety, she reluctantly played scenes of Malcolm walking a bridge by himself, looking out over the edge, and letting gravity do the work for him. But Malcolm did show up to work, and did so without a shotgun.
“How wrong is that?” asked Malcolm to a quiet Karen. “The lines are longer there too, more people go to the Coca-Cola Factory to see twelve different colors of Fanta than those who go to see a book signed by Eleanor Roosevelt given to Correta Scott King. The lines are waaaay bigger.”
What was also hard to admit was how much Karen enjoyed Malcolm. Sometimes she wondered if he wasn’t crazy, sometimes she wondered if he was the only true sane person in the room.
Their manager pulled Malcolm aside when he showed up late that day. They talked in private for nearly an hour, and when Malcolm came back his face looked raw from tears. But he came back. She wanted to ask him if he had begged for his job, she wanted to ask him what he got out of calling customer service reps, like themselves, and dumping his eccentric rants on them. She wanted to ask him if he was okay. So, when they went on break, she approached him, Taser in her pocket, and asked about his day.
A week later and she still does not have an answer to that question.
“Did you know that Fanta was a Nazi soda? It’s true.” Malcolm Continued. “Once we joined the war front we refused to sell Coca-Cola to the Germans. Hitler specifically asked for a replacement to up Nazi morale, so they invented Fanta. Coca-Cola owns Fanta now. People would rather stand in line to gawk at a Nazi Soda-Pop than honor The Civil Rights Movement!”
“That’s messed up” Karen replied sincerely, a spoon of yogurt held in pause beneath her face.
“It is messed up” Malcolm agreed.
No one else talked to Malcolm. Truth be told: he smelled a little, like a shower was a rare occurrence in his life. Truth be told: he was kinda creepy. Truth be told: his shirt was more grey than white, and it used to be white. There was good reason not to talk to him, but there was plenty of reason to listen to him.
“The horrible thing is that it is hard to blame them, the people who go to the Coca-Cola factory instead. I’ve chosen petty escapism over profound and heavy truths too. It’s just a shame is all.” Malcolm said, checking the time on his phone. The break was almost up.
Someday soon Karen will ask Malcolm personal questions. Someday she will find out if he has a decent place to sleep. Soon, asking “how was your day?” will yield things like “I feel depressed”, or “it was shit” instead of a treaties on human injustice. Maybe someday he will ask about her day. But for now, if Malcolm does go postal, at least he’ll probably spare her for being the only one friendly to him.
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