I was born into a prejudice family. My father held blacks in low esteem. My mother had little to say on the matter. I suppose that was because, in that day, women were expected to remain silent, to not have a strong opinion. The school I went to was all White, and I accepted that as a given. It was just the way things were.
In 1946 my mother and I relocated from Missouri to Southern California. Obviously, my father’s prejudice hadn’t rubbed off on me because my best friend in the third grade was Andy, a black boy.
One morning Andy met me on the playground and he was literally out of breath with excitement. Jackie Robinson had earned his way into a baseball major league, and he could hardly wait to share the news. I didn’t realize there was a color barrier in baseball. My world didn’t extend very far beyond home and school. I didn’t really understand the magnitude of what he was telling me, and I wouldn’t for another decade.
In 1956 I enlisted in the Air Force and that winter I was transferred to Keesler AFB, Mississippi. I was stunned to discover two waiting rooms at train depot – one for colored and one for white. There were three restrooms – men, women, and colored. Two water fountains were on Howard Avenue, one marked for white, the other colored.
When I married Barb in 1962 I told her about my experiences. There was little we could do, as individuals. However, we could try hard to see that there was no prejudice remarks made in our house in an attempt to show our children that black people were our equals.
Of course there were no rules to follow, or instruction booklet to which we could refer. We were on our own and never sure how we were doing. Then one day one of our girls brought a black boy home to meet her family.
At that juncture I was not sure how I felt about a black son in-law. It had never crossed my mind. But in reality it wasn’t our call. It was Tina’s. We would live with her decision. If she chose to marry him he would become a member of our family. So we never ventured an opinion. In a few weeks their relationship cooled, but tney remained close friends throughout high school. They may still be friends.
The event in Ferguson, Missouri where Michael Brown lost his life brought my Mississippi memories front and center. It was although I’d been there last week rather than 58 years ago.
I wish things were better. There’s a lot more to be done.