Monday, January 21, 2008


It was probably the early 1980’s. My boss and I, which constituted the entire “company,” decided to hire a part time clerical employee.

I placed a notice with the student employment office at my alma mater, San Francisco State, and we eventually hired two of the eight or so people who responded to that notice.

One of the first calls came from a young woman I guessed was African-American. She was kind of difficult on the phone, as if she didn’t really want a job. I got the picture of her mom or dad standing over her while she made appointments for interviews.

There was difficulty nailing down a good time for the interview. I spent much effort explaining how to get to our office on public transit (something an enthusiastic applicant could easily figure out on her own). She had other probing questions, designed, I felt, to find something objectionable about the job.

I would have told her to forget it, she’d already failed the “excellent communication skills” part of the job description, but, because she was African American, I went ahead and scheduled the interview.

About half an hour later she called back.

“Monday,” she said, “is Martin Luther King’s birthday.”

This didn’t register at first. We were a small contracting firm, we worked when there was work. The only thing different about weekends and holidays for us was the availability of vendor services (UPS pick-up, the copy place’s hours). We took plenty of time off, but not necessarily on weekends or holidays.

“So…?” I responded.

“I can’t come in on MLK day”

I asked her to name a day that week that would be better for her.

“No,” she said, “I don’t want to work for a company that doesn’t take Martin Luther King’s birthday off.”

“Ok,” I said, “ thanks for your interest.

This always seemed ironic to me.

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sfmike said...

I'm not sure the word for that story is "ironic." More like "sad" or "illuminating" or "absurd." Happy MLK Day, by the way.

sfwillie said...

Dear Mike,

You're right, it's sad.

Less sad:

My dad contributed regularly to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, MLK's org.

When MLK spoke at the gates of Santa Rita prison to a rally supporting me and 400 other civil disobediants against the war and the draft, my mom and dad drove over to participate.

A circle was closed there, and I know it made my dad feel good.

sfmike said...

Thanks for the happy MLK story. At a blog called "Soho The Dog," he quoted a great MLK speech telling the tale of Odysseus and The Sirens and using a better singer (namely, Orpheus) to drown out their destructive songs. And here's the moral:

"So we must fix our visions not merely on the negative expulsion of war. But upon the positive affirmation of peace. We must see that peace represents a sweeter music, a cosmic melody that is far superior to the discords of war.

It is still not too late to make the proper choice. If we decide to become a moral power we will be able to transform the jangling discords of this world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we make the wise decision we will be able to transform our pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. This will be a glorious day. In reaching it we can fulfill the noblest of American dreams."