In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed the bill that would make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a federal holiday. It began to be observed three years later in many states.
Not all states. New Hampshire was one of the states that chose not to. In 1991, the Legislature abolished Fast Day, in order to create Civil Rights Day, a holiday that would coincide with MLK Day, but not use his name. Finally, in 1999 N.H. became the last state to honor Dr. King.
There was a lot of discussion by white people in a white state, on how it would be wrong to honor Dr. King because he was a communist, or an adulterer or something — any excuse other than the real reason they didn’t want to honor him.
The public debate went on for years. In those halcyon, pre-internet days, the debate was fought in the letters to the editor sections of local newspapers. The Conway Daily Sun was no exception to the MLK wars. I was one of the participants. For a few years, I mixed it up with the local anti-King population, hand writing letters and sending them to the newspaper. That seems quaint now, doesn’t it?
Then I moved to California for a couple of years, and didn’t participate in the letter wars. I came back just in time for the OJ verdict. I promised myself I’d stay out of the letter wars, but one day in a moment of weakness, I jumped back in. I wrote a letter that was sharply critical of the way women were represented in the paper, after the county sheriff expressed a willingness to spank bare-bottomed 14-year old girls in the center of town. They responded by offering me a column. That was on Feb. 10, 1996. My first column was published on Feb. 17, titled, “Some of my best friends are men.”
It’s been 23 years of ups and downs. I somehow grew into being a columnist, which might have been easier if I’d be smart enough to ask for help. I did get some good advice along the way from both Mark Guerringue and Bill Marvel. My first editor was Anne Edwards, who was kind to the clueless new person, and took a photo of a Barbie doll that I used as my profile photo whenever I could.
The first few years brought a lot of hate mail. It was hard to handle that in the beginning. It was interesting to look back 23 years later and read through a stack of letters from men explaining what “real” feminism was. I’d forgotten about some of my anti-fan club. Some died. Some gave up. Some had encounters with karma. One prissy and prolific Christian who wrote endless letters professing his piety went on to be arrested for having a house full of drugs and molesting boys.
I was given the freedom to write about anything I wanted. Looking back over a stack of old paper columns, I wrote about rape, domestic violence and guns, but I also wrote about Georgia O’Keeffe, music, suicide, the war on drugs and the need to let people mourn. I was often too serious in the early years, and sometimes I did write things intended to piss people off. Judging by the stack of old letters, it worked.
Eventually, I found a niche and a voice in writing about N.H. politics, and the goings on at the State House. I’ve learned a great deal about how the Legislature functions, some of it the nuts and bolts stuff, and some if it the behind the scenes dealings. I’ve learned plenty about legislators, some good, some bad. A state representative has even sued me for defamation. One year, two courts, and four dismissals later, he finally accepted losing the suit. He also lost re-election.
It’s been an eventful 23 years. I’ve run for office, been homeless, had two moose collisions, been married, widowed and nearly killed in a car crash.
Now, it’s time to say adieu for a while. I love this crazy state, but circumstances require my moving closer to my family in Maine. I’ll be learning an entirely new state and a new state Legislature.
I want to thank Mark Guerringue, who gave me this opportunity. I’ve exasperated him on occasion, but he has always been firmly in my corner. Terry Leavitt was a joy to work with as my editor for a few years, and Margaret McKenzie has been terrific as my editor in the last year or two. The late Ron Tunning did a turn as my editor, and we became friends. I still miss him. A small town paper is an increasingly rare commodity at a time when they are desperately needed. I’m going to miss being part of this one.
Thank you, readers. I’ll miss you most of all.
Writer Susan Bruce lives in Concord. Visit her blog at susanthebruce.blogspot.com.