Last year I wrote a post titled Black and White. It was about growing up in the 50’s when races were separated. I wrote how as a child I was never aware that separation was wrong. Tonight I am doing an update on the black and white topic. In today’s post, I am a teenager and still in Girl Scouts. That is where I am starting.
As a senior Girl Scout, I could apply to go to the national Round-Up. It was a wonderful event for Scouts. The competition was tough but I was one of the Scouts selected to attend and represent Georgia. I was so excited. As a part of the yearlong training, I met and camped with all the attendees from north Georgia. It was great fun! We had a camping weekend every month. We were divided into patrols and worked together to get ready for our Round-Up in Idaho. There were a few differences in our camping. We stayed outdoors-even in the cold and snow to get ready for our Idaho experience. And we were multi-racial. My partner was black. We all drove to our camping events. No parents ever came. We were teenagers and had council adults to assist us, train us and monitor our training.
The BIG difference happened when we met at the train station in Atlanta. Our parents had never been around. We saw one another and raced into each other’s arms-hugging and laughing. We were going by train to Chicago and then across the United States. It was exciting! That is when I noticed the looks on the faces of some adults. There were a few shocked faces. Why? Well, we were a mixed group. Some black and some white. A few parents made a scene-a big scene. They did not want their daughter to camp with a black Scout. They threatened to pull their Scout from the event. Girls cried. Parents griped because they wanted some separation. Well, we had been together for months. We saw nothing wrong. To the best of my memory, two girls were pulled by their parents. The rest of us got on the train and we left town!
The next few weeks were glorious! I was in a double compartment with 7 other girls-black and white. We immediately began a marathon Canasta game with new folks joining when someone wanted a break. We shared clothes, shoes and makeup. I learned about processed hair. We watched the black girls fix their hair and they watched us. It was a blast! The Round-Up was awesome. The scenery was too beautiful for words. The time flew by.
Before we knew it, we were on the train again coming home. We played Canasta, swapped clothes and talked about everything. When we arrived in Atlanta, our parents were glad to see us. What they saw were a bunch of girls who had lived several weeks together. WE saw nothing different about any of us. We hugged, laughed and cried together as our parents peeled us apart.. There was no black and white. We had lived together, eaten together, exchanged clothes and beds, prayed together. We had solved the world’s problems. WE WERE ONE! Amen.
I have to take this post for a confession. I grew up in the 1950’s. Everything was either black or white. Since I had never known anything else, I never realized that anything was amiss.
For example, I never went to school with anyone of another race. Every child in all my classes and throughout the elementary school and middle school and high school was white. The entire staff at the school-teachers, lunchroom workers and custodians-were white. Everyone in my church was white. My Scout troop was white. I lived in a white world. Black students in grades 1-12 attended their own school. Students were bussed there every day from the city and the county.
My white world extended to grocery stores, doctor’s offices, and clothing stores. I saw black people in town but had no interactions at all with any other race. Never.
My grandfather worked for the railroad. He was a conductor. So we sometimes rode the train to visit him in Illinois. We would leave the train station in Marietta in the afternoon and arrive in Chicago the next morning. Well, we left from the white station. One end of the station was for whites. The other end was for blacks. Doors were labeled “Whites Only”. Water fountains were labeled. Blacks were not served at the drug store luncheonette. The theatre on the square had a separate entrance for the blacks. Their seating was above the balcony and they could reach this by standing in line on the sidewalk on the street beside the theatre. They could not purchase tickets at the ticket booth. “WhitesOnly”
When we were in the north visiting family, the separate but equal continued. Places served whites or they served blacks. It was not just a Southern thing. Apparently many regions of the country believed in separating the races. What is funny is that if you were Asian, you could eat with the whites. Or shop with them.
Unfortunately, separate but equal also was used to separate “different” children from “regular” children. I never had a single special education child in an class. These “different” children had their own “different” school.
My parents never talked about races or racial issues around the children. They just never did. They never used inappropriate racial terms. In fact, none of the parents that we knew ever did that.
Still, looking back over this period of time in my life, it is hard for me to believe that I never noticed anything was different.
It was a Friday. Fall was finally feeling like Fall in the South. Our weather is always a little screwy. It was almost Thanksgiving. I was excited that we would have a few days off. I was in the ninth grade in a newly started middle school. Actually we were not a real middle school. We were a bunch of ninth graders that didn’t fit into the statistics for enrollment that year. So half of the ninth graders went to a brand new high school. The rest of us unfortunate people went to the old high school that had room for us. That meant that by the time we arrived in another year, friendships would already be formed without us. There was no band or chorus. We were just out of luck. Some teachers were required to stay at the old school and were glad. Others-not so happy. That year I had two excellent teachers-my English lit teacher and my world geography teacher. But that is not a real part of this post. Just supplemental information!
My geography class was 5th period. I have no inkling what we were studying. Looking back I should have remembered. But then again it wasn’t that important to the day.
The Date was November 22, 1963.
What were you doing that day?
For many of you, this date means nothing. For me, it was the day that the principal announced over the intercom: John F Kennedy has been assassinated in Dallas, Texas. We were silent. I could feel my heart beating -fast. Who would do this? Should I be afraid?
I had reached the age where I had begun to notice political things and The Kennedy’s were certainly worthy of watching. One of the big things I heard adults talking about at church was if Kennedy was elected would the Pope be able to have him do special things for the Catholic Church. Hmm. I had never considered that the Roman Catholic Church might end up running the country. Does that mean that Billy Graham could call up a senator and get special treatment? Hmm. People talked about Kennedy and his heroism in the Pacific. Everyone knew about PT 109. I still have that video! People talked about how rich the family was. So wealth was an issue, too.
But he was elected President and fell into the media spotlight. Women wore pillbox hats because Jackie did. Women wore big sunglasses because—-Jackie did. And everyone grieved for the children they lost.
We all watched the funeral procession and wept for the life destroyed before it’s time.
And we all watched John-John as he saluted his father’s casket .