A couple of fellow ten year-olds and I were coming home from school one afternoon in 1968 when we spontaneously decided to see who could spit the furthest, in a kind of round-robin tournament as we walked. A car drove past us and then pulled over to the curb. A guy got out and stood on the sidewalk, waiting for us as we approached. He was in his twenties, and he was black. As we nervously got within a few feet of him, we could see that he was upset, but maintaining his composure. “A lot of things that used to be funny aren’t funny any more”, he told us. At first, we briefly (and feebly) tried to explain that our spitting contest had been misinterpreted by him, but we quickly just offered our regrets and all parties continued with their day. I have never forgotten that encounter, and I suspect that Chris Conroy and Larry Ponsi never forgot it either.
Thanks, Dr. Martin Luther King. You did your level best to show that a few carefully chosen words can have as great an impact as actions dictated by blind rage.