Saturday, October 14, 2006

Historic High School Memories Part II

I have a couple of distinct memories from the Civil Rights era that are very telling of the times.

One of my girlfriend's at Phillips father was a preacher who was an outspoken advocate for integration, and a lot of the students at Phillips made her life miserable. I tried my best to remain friendly to her, but I remember how hard it was. I was afraid to associate with her, but angry that everyone was taking her father's views out on her. I don't think I did a very good job of being a good friend to her, but I did my best at the time.

The other incident that sticks out in my mind is another one that I look back on, and I'm not proud of myself at all. The one friend that I had gone to elementary school with rode home with me on the bus after things had settled down a bit. The buses were still segregated at that time, but there was still a lot of demonstrating going on.

When we were not too far from where she would have gotten off the bus, some other school kids decided to get cute. They took the board that said "Colored," that divided the front and back of the bus, and they moved it several seats behind some Black passengers. We saw them do it, but didn't dare say anything. The next thing we knew, the bus driver had pulled the bus over, and was coming down the aisle, yelling hateful remarks to the Blacks! (Of course that's not what he called them, but I don't use that kind of language.) We thought he was going to get onto the kids, but instead he just assumed that the Colored folks had moved in front of the board.

How I wish the two of us had had the courage to speak up and tell him that the kids had done it, but we didn't. For all we knew, the whole bus was about to erupt into a violent confrontation. We both ran for the exit and all but ran to her house. I think I stayed there until my parents came and got me after work, I was so scared.

I've looked back on those two incidents and wished I had been braver then. I don't know if I would be any braver today in similar situations, but I sure hope I would. I've always been ashamed of the way I let my friend at school down, and the way I didn't stand up for those people on the bus who were being blamed for something they didn't do.

17 comments:

Anvilcloud said...

It's tough being a kid in tough situations. Hopefully those boys remember too and really wish that they hadn't done that. The guilt belongs to them, not to you.

Anonymous said...

Dirty Butter, we all have situations that we wish we had handled better. Look at it this way...At least you worked at being a friend instead of turning your back on her!

Larry Kamphausen said...

These are powerful stories. While I agree with the previous two comments that in encouraging you that your responces could have been worse, I did not get the sense that you were seeking to view these incidents in a more positive light.
These two stories lead me to think that I need to be aware of how I respond to situations in day to day life. Are there things I tacitly accept that I shouldn't.
Thanks for posting these expreinces.

Dirty Butter said...

I do appreciate your words of encouragement, Anvilcloud and Janey Loree. But Larry is right. I'm really not proud of the way I handled either of those situations, and I think that shame has become a positive force in my life.

CyberCelt said...

Here for C&C Monday. Those were trying times for all. Just think how far the world has come in that aspect. Now, about the other 399 ...

Dirty Butter said...

You're right, cybercelt. There's certainly been a lot of progress in the area of Civil Rights, but there's much in the attitudes of all races that still needs to be improved.

As for the "399," many need to learn the lesson of non-violent demonstrations, which was the key to overcoming segregation.

Sheila said...

You know the thing I regret, Dirty, is that I never knew what to say to some of my racist relatives. I just wanted to crawl under the table when they would start up. Among white people at the time was the implicit understanding that everyone was on the same page and felt the same way about black people. With me, that wasn't so, yet I never had the nerve to say so.

Anonymous said...

Dirty Butter, I was raised that the color of our skin was not the gauge to a person's worth...it is our actions. I agree with you and Larry that we need to stand up for what we believe is right, while at the same time not accept what is wrong as right.

Dirty Butter said...

I had some very racist relatives, too, Sheila. My parents raised me to be very respectful of everyone, Black or White, plus I was all but raised by our maid, Sadie.

But my parents also drilled into me from a very young age to be afraid of the Klan and to keep my mouth shut about anything that could be taken as defending a Black person. And I was extremely fearful of the Klan, with good reason. One of the men who was chain whipping Rev. Shuttlesworth outside Phillips was Daddy's neighborhood barber!

Dirty Butter said...

Janey Loree, I grew up very conscious of the fact that Colored people deserved respect just as much as White people did. I can remember saying "Yes Ma'am" to the lunch room servers at our elementary school, and my friends teasing me about it. But I kept on doing it. At least that's one memory I can be proud of.

Abu Sahajj said...

That is a touching story... I hope after a life experience like that you now have the courage to stand up to injustice.

Dirty Butter said...

I am a lot more outspoken in many situations, abu sahajj, than I think I would have been if the bus incident had not happened to me. That was a real character changing event in my life.

Abu Sahajj said...

That was a real character changing event in my life.

Yes it sounds like it effected you.

Anji said...

When we're young we don't really understand the world in the same way. Life was like that for you and many people. Thank goodness things have changed

When I was at school I'm ashamed to say that we used to make the Nazi salute to our German teacher. He never said a word. Years later I discovered that he was Jewish and had probably come to England to escape the Nazis

Dirty Butter said...

Oh, Anji! I can really sympathize with your regret at that long ago offense given to your teacher. He was a man of amazing character to take that without explaining the truth of the situation.

It's good to see that at least in some ways people are more respectful and aware of others than they were in our childhoods.

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Anji said...

I hope that you don't mind. I've copied your High school memories texts to use with one of my students.

There is a lot of material that I can use over several lessons with her in the New year.

Wishing you and your family a very Happy Christmas. Hope that we'll both have more time to 'chat' in 2012!

Dirty Butter said...

I shared these stories over the years as I taught about the Civil Rights Era at school. I'm honored that you think these posts worthy of using with your student. Thinking of you daily dear friend.