November 28, 2013

A White Perspective Of Civil Rights Movement

For some time I have been organizing my thoughts concerning segregation and my personal feelings about the black race. I have a good grasp of what I believe today, but I wanted to have a better understanding of how and why I got here. A black Facebook friend referred me to a video on YouTube, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross 1940 to 1968, and asked me and others to watch and share our thoughts.

I have concluded my parents actions, and not so much their words, have much to do with how I feel about race.

I was born in 1945 so I lived through much of this time period. It was a good part of my formative years. I was born and raised in Flint, Michigan. My father and mother grew up during the depression. When the depression started my Dad had enough to eat because of being on a farm in Minnesota. For some time period in the 1930's my Dad spent in the Civilian Conversation Core, CCC Camps, which was a public work relief program operating from 1933 to 1942 in the United States for unemployed, unmarried men from relief families, ages 18–25 as part of Roosevelt's New Deal. In other words, he was on welfare.

In the late 1930's early 1940's my Dad moved to Flint hoping to work in the auto industry, was drafted into the army and my brother was born in 1943. My Dad only had a second grade education and when he got out of the army he went to work at the Buick plant on the line. By the time he retired he was a journeyman electrician and respected by everyone. He worked hard, sometimes 18 hours a day, and never complained.

Despite having little formal education my parents would read the newspaper every night, watch the local and national news every weekday and we would watch William F. Buckley on Firing Line every Saturday. My brother and I now smile about this because Buckley was the right wing Republican of his time and my Dad was a true blue union member and a staunch Democrat.

By the way, my brother is still both. I think my Dad watched Buckley for two reasons. First, he respected his debating skills even though not agreeing with everything he said. Secondly, I think he felt it was a good education for his sons, and he was right. He did not make us watch Buckley but we took his lead.

I remember one day in the mid '50's my Mom and I were watching the nightly news and they were showing a black girl, probably 12 years old, being squirted with a high pressure fire hose to prevent her from entering an all white school. My mother tried to hide from me the fact that she was in tears as she was watching. Loving my Mother the way I did, this had a big impact on me. I cannot recall my parents ever using the N-word. Instead when they were angry with a black person they would call him/her a "czarny" which was black in Polish..

For most of my brothers college teaching career he taught at historically black universities in the south. At some point one of his black students asked how our parents would refer to blacks and he told them carny and they got a kick out of that. They said they could live with that.

My mom in many ways was the steady anchor of the family. She had a phrase that she said to me probably half dozen times in my life and I have said it often to my two boys: "Remember, you are no better than anyone else; but also remember there is no one better than you." She died 26 years ago today. Happy Thanksgiving mom and thanks.

2 comments: