And We Took The Ride Together

I think there’s just one kind of folks.  Folks.  ~Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

I started elementary school in the Fall of 1969. This was the very first year of desegregation in our school system. I guess the county like many small Southern towns contained much prejudice. However, I don’t recall any tension between the races when I was in elementary school. We were just small children taking that big first step of starting school. We banded together and offered solace and protection for one another. Not only we were in a new setting, but we were also the survivors of Camille, the flood that nearly devastated our entire county.

We were not afraid of each other and did not immediately see the differences that adults saw. We saw that we all liked to color, sing, slide down the slides, ride the see saws, and play dodge ball. We like to play tag, and we all wanted to be the little red caboose. And we all took great delight in doing the cocka-a-doodle-doo at song time! The only race that mattered to first graders was who took the blue ribbon in the turkey trot. We were innocent and eager to make friends and learn new things.

We were intrigued with one another’s skin and hair. We rubbed our hands along one another’s arms and played with each other’s hair. We shared our snacks and laughed together. While our parents focused on our differences, we knew that although we looked different we were still very much the same. We were a family away from home.

I quickly became friends with a little boy named Marvin. He was silly and fun and I adored him. And he was short like me, so that sort of sealed the deal. However, he was always chasing me down and trying to kiss me. I knew I was not supposed to kiss boys, so I complained to my Daddy. He told me that the next time that little Don Juan tried to pin me down to take two fingers and black his eyes. I replied to my Daddy that I couldn’t do it. He demanded to know why and I said, “Cuz his eyes is already black.” From the mouths of babes. I really don’t know if my father was mortified that his youngest child’s first boyfriend was a different race or more tickled with my reply, but that quote has gone down in family history. Marvin and I remained friends throughout school. I was devastated to hear shortly before our twentieth class reunion that he had died. If he could read this, he’d probably chuckle.

My first “nonwhite” girlfriend was Tootie. She was the most fun of anyone in the entire school. She made me laugh so hard my belly hurt. I had the joy of having many classes with her throughout my school years and rode the bus with her. It was a great joy to see her at my 20th reunion. Like old times, she had me rolling on the floor in no time. Her humor and down to earth manner were what I’d always admired about her.

The biggest obstacle we had between the “whites and blacks” as we were called then was music. We had a large meeting place in the center of the school. Our school had been selected as a site for some sort of learning pilot project. It was one of those learn at your own pace rather than specific curriculum for an entire class. They had torn out the auditorium style seating and replaced it with carpeting, tables and chairs and renamed it “the space”. All that remained unchanged was the stage. Anyway, every morning we would take sides in a show down of music and dancing. We pushed all of the chairs against the walls and set up the portable record players on the tables and started turning those 45’s. It became Donny Osmond and the Osmond Brothers against Michael Jackson and The Jackson Five. We would argue relentlessly about who was better until it was time to get down to academics. I don’t think we ever really agreed, but I think you can look back at music history and see how clear the answer is in hindsight! With music being the biggest obstacle in uniting us, I’d say that was not too bad. I’m sure there were other things throughout the years, but this is what jumps out in my memory. Those really were the good old days. Changes were coming, and they were good ones.

My high school graduation class of 1981 was the first class to have gone through the system completely desegregated and was a proud moment for our school superintendent, Henry Connor, who stated that he started that year with us in first grade and walked with us on our journey. Yes, we’ve come a long way, baby!

38 thoughts on “And We Took The Ride Together

  1. We must be exactly the same age, but had polar opposite experiences. My school years were in the strictly white, privileged schools and I only became aware of racism and the injustice of Apartheid as a teen.
    Lovely post, I am sure Marvin would have had a wide grin on his face if he read it.

  2. And amazing that it was not very long ago. I serve as a pastor in an intentionally multicultural, multiracial congregation. What is amazing is that according to studies, less than 4 -5% of mainline Christian congregations are multicultural or multiracial. We still have a long way to go. – Bill

  3. Living in the north, I never was aware of desegregation and such as a youngster. You and I are about the same age (1980 grad)…we had 4 black kids at our school. 4! I remember nothing different aboutn them, or they being treated differently (or indifferently)…except they were always on all the sports teams!

    And yes, they could dance better at the parties. That was a given.
    🙂

    Great read. Thanks for sharing your story!

  4. I agree with Revbillcook…it’s amazing to think that this turning point in our history was not so long ago. And, although I appreciate how far we’ve come, we still have a long way to go. But, being the eternal optimist that I am have no doubts we will get to a point in our society where we celebrate our multi-cultural existence, not fight against it or work our hardest to ignore it.
    Nice post Suzicate! 🙂
    Mindy
    http://www.thesuburbanlife.com

    • I think we will get there. It is amazing how differently I raised my children from how I was raised, and I am sure there will be differences in them raising theirs…maybe, in a few generations we will get there. We do still have far to go, but in comparison to my folks generation, we’ve come a long way.

  5. Faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaabulous story, Suzie.

    So beautifully shared!

    And I have to agree with what you shared in your comment to Mindy. We do still have far to go, but in comparison to our folks generation, we’ve come a LONG way. I don’t know if you’ve ever watched the movie “The Josephine Baker Story” (it’s a brilliant film), but she was a huge advocate for desegregation starting back in the late 40’s and all through the 50’s. She was an amazing woman!

    Loved the quote you shared from To Kill a Mockingbird. I actually performed in that play back in the late 90’s. Wonderful script.

    Thanks for sharing!

    X

    • “To Kill A Mockingbird” is my ALL.TIME.FAVORITE.BOOK.EVER!Followed closely be “A Seperate Peace”. What role did you play, Ron? I have never seen
      The Josephine Baker Story”, but for some reason that name does ring familiar…will check it out though.

  6. I grew up in the Deep South so to say and as you pointed out growing up we saw a lot of prejudices and resentment and most came from the adults who were afraid of change.

    I think, there are a lot of good people all over and there are also a lot of racists, the South gets stereotyped as racist but in my opinion the racists are the ones making the news rather than the folks who embrace one another and live as they should.

    Growing up I had several black friends and never really thought about the differences in our skin color, friends are friends no matter what and yes we still have a long way to go.

    Loved the Post Suzie

  7. You have to love how color blind we all are as kids. We had Mexicans in our family and black friends, so race or color was never an issue growing up. I’m thankful my mom brought us up like that. BTW, she started 1st grade the same year as you, and I think this is why her perspective is so much different than the previous generations.

  8. When we are children, I think it’s all about discovery, learning, and fun. If a child meets someone different than himself, I think he is all the more interested, because of the novelty. I believe racism and prejudice must be taught, either by word or example; it doesn’t just happen naturally. Maybe in the case of these things, children should be the teachers… it would certainly make a more accepting world. Good post…thanks for sharing. Heatspell

  9. I confess I did not fully appreciate how relatively recently in American history desegregation occurred. I am currently reading The Help which is a quite amazing book and have visited the African American Heritage museum here, so appreciate just a little what a big thing this was. How I wish all of us could just view one another as children do, for who we are not by color, race, religion, the home or street we live in or other things that matter not one bit.

  10. It’s incredible to me that there was every segregation. I know it happened, of course, but it’s so hard for me to imagine such a thing… Which is pretty dumb, I guess, since no matter how far we’ve come, it seems to me that there’s still racism, bigotry and discrimination that still goes on today… I suppose I should be grateful that at least, legally, segregation between races, religions or classes isn’t allowed.

  11. I cannot imagine the devastation of a flood, that must have just been awful to go through.

    Austin has an annual 10K Turkey Trot! I’ve never been.

    I was a short kid too — and not such a tall woman now — 5′ 2.75″

    Poor Marvin dying so young. Sad.

    I never really think of race differences, to me we are all equal. We all laugh and cry and eat and dance, make merry and share this beautiful planet together under One Love.

    Beautiful writing, as always, Suzicate.

    xo

  12. I love the quote by Harper Lee. And it is nice to see more stories of integration like this one. My husband and I just watched Remember the Titans for the hundreth time and we were both commenting on how the racial integration worked in this city. Truly amazing, but it can happen.

    Thanks for sharing this Suzicate.

  13. I was born the year before you go to school,
    going through natural disasters is no fun at all,

    one can always make a difference in life via small things, Glad to see you shine at a young age.
    bright and smart girl you are.

    happy Thursday!
    😉

  14. I grew up in South Africa when Apartheid was still at the order of the day..now living in Australia, I cannot even imagine those years. You write with such passion about years gone by…it’s always such a pleasure to come here. Have a lovely day Suzi ~ Hugs x

  15. This was a really nice personal story. We are the same age it seems, I started elementary school in Miami in 1969 too without racial tension. I would not have understood if there was tension. My family never raised me to think anyone was any different than anyone else.

  16. what a cool memory…glad you have good ones of this time period as it was big in our history and not with out its tension. cool little tales there…

  17. As far as nationality, religion and color goes, my country has a mosaic structure, we’re all living here together. And I have the opportunity to observe how children look at people and only see ‘people’ and how they lose this ability while they grow up and start seeing ‘different people’.
    Thank you for sharing your wonderful story Suzicate 🙂

  18. I don’t remember having the issues of the south when I was in Maine, but when we moved to Texas I was shocked at peoples reactions. My great Uncle was African American and I never saw or knew of any problems with that.
    Child innocence is fabulous!

  19. This is a great story. It taught me to appreciate what I have learned. Unfortunately, my story is not as beautiful as yours in accepting difference race. But I am truly greatful for the benefits I have received and the family I have been given to make me a better person. To be able to look beyond race and see people for who they truly are on the inside. Thanks for sharing it!

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