In honor of Black History Month, Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland (D-WA) hosted a conversation with Olympia-based author, community leader, and distinguished public servant, Merritt Long. Strickland and Long discussed excerpts from Long’s memoir, “My View From the Back of the Bus,” as well as issues facing the Black community in Washington and across our nation. Their discussion touched on the importance of education, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), workplace discrimination, the January 6th insurrection, and more.
“When we think about the civil rights movement in 2021, and when we meet people like Merritt and Marsha, we sometimes forget that so much of our history happened in their lifetime,” said Strickland. “As we think about recovering from this pandemic and economic justice, we have to be willing to have these discussions with open minds and open hearts, and listen to people’s experiences.”
“Initially, I thought writing the book would be from a legacy and historical point of view for my daughter, nieces, nephews, and grandkids to learn about my experiences growing up in the segregated South. I realized it was a bigger story than just a historical reference, and now we have My View From The Back of the Bus,” said Long.
When discussing the important role that Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) played in both of their lives, Strickland explained that the system “sprung up when African-Americans were blocked from attending other colleges.” When studying at Clark Atlanta University, she continued, “for the first time, I didn’t feel like a minority. I had classmates from Ghana, from all parts of the black diaspora.”
Long stated, “Morehouse’s goal was to develop the whole man. There are those who say you can tell a Morehouse man, but you can’t tell him much.” Long added that he attended Morehouse on the advice of his father.
When discussing the January 6th insurrection, Strickland recalled, “I think about the contrast of that week. I was sworn in that Sunday with the most diverse Congress in the history of the US. Three days later, there was a Confederate flag rolling through the Capitol. You saw African-Americans and people of color working with the custodial staff cleaning up that mess.”
Long added, “People were coming to hurt people. It wasn’t a protest or a peaceful demonstration.”
These are just a few of the experiences that Long shares in “My View From the Back of the Bus,” the memoir he and his wife, Marsha Tadano Long, published in December 2020. The memoir chronicles Long’s experiences growing up in the segregated South amid Jim Crow laws, attending Morehouse College in Atlanta, moving to the Pacific Northwest where he became the head of several state agencies, and more.