From Paris to the Civil Rights Movement

She told her parents that life was long and youth was short and that she wasn’t ready for marriage. “I want to sit in cafes and drink cappuccinos and read books and feel the romantic aura of Paris,” she said, the scene dancing in her eyes.

“Who wouldn’t?” her father, Max, shouted, his arms flailing, trying to decide whether to support her adventurous spirit or attempt to guide his first-born child down a more traditional, in his mind, suitable path. “You must be responsible,” he went with.

“Old people say be responsible,” she fired back.

Liza was fiery like her mother, Rita. Rita, a petite redhead with light freckles and prominent dimples, never raised her voice, but there was a certainty and finality, a conviction when she spoke. If she said, she did; no one was going to change her opinion. Her daughter was the same way.

With her mind made, the day after graduating high school, Liza packed a small suitcase of clothes and a large one of books and flew to Paris. Mother and father drove her to the airport. Liza paid the bill.

In Paris, life was what she dreamed. Under the warm splendor of summer, she read books in cafes, wrote poetry and short fiction. She found a writers community, who at night argued politics and after danced until the sun rose, which they watched from the top of the city at Montmartre. Then they ate crepes and went to bed, to do it all over again in the evening.

There were many ex-pats from the U.S., but one, in particular, caught her eye. They flirted with their eyes first, each gazing over. She’d smile, he’d sheepishly look away. He was shy, not reserved, with deep, thoughtful eyes and a kind smile. He didn’t speak often, but when he did, all listened.

Liza didn’t wait for him to come to speak with her. One night she walked up to him as he was getting a drink and said, “I like some of your points on Socialism, but you do know Marx was wrong.” This was the flirtatious banter that spoke to both of their hearts.

That night she learned his name was Fred and he was a romantic, in love with art and literature. A recent college graduate, he moved to Paris to write a novel and enjoy greater freedom than U.S. life offered. Dark-skinned in look, mixed in ancestry, he had been born in Mississippi and raised in Boston. After high school, he studied at Boston University because Martin Luther King Jr. earned his doctorate there. And Martin was his hero. He watched Martin’s speeches, read his works, mimicked his presentation style, spread his gospel, and lived with the same vigor to change the world.

Liza and Fred were inseparable after that night, spending their evenings drinking wine on the banks of the Seine, picnicking in the parks, wandering the streets, and exploring bookstores. Liza, who grew up ballroom dancing, taught Fred to dance; Fred taught Liza about Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. She wasn’t naive, but her suburban community in Massachusetts didn’t reflect much of the country. In learning about civil rights, she thought about her family and their stories, shared struggles of anti-Semitism with Fred. She was born in a dense forest in Poland, where Rita and Max and their families were part of a Jewish partisan troop, hiding for nearly five years during the Holocaust. Her parents didn’t talk much about that time, but some stories she knew.

For both, Paris was an aura of love, a spirit of light, a wondrous place like nothing they had ever experienced. But as months passed, desires to stay changed. Although the aura was still there, the feelings were different. The cafes and cappuccinos felt bland now. Enjoying freedom while watching civil rights protestors in the states attacked, beaten, and imprisoned, was becoming unpalatable. Instilled in their minds now were the images of protestors in Birmingham, Alabama. 

It was time. Fred and Liza packed their bags and headed back home to join the civil rights movement.


“From Paris to the Civil Rights movement” is a work of historical fiction. While based on true events, the story, characters, and incidents are fictitious.

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