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Three score and ten or more

Saturday, April 25, 2009

More meditations on Coothood, Neighborhood, and Other Hoods.

I live in a really nice neighborhood.  It is a subdivision where most of the homes have lots over an acre in size, everything is well landscaped and well developed.  My next door neighbors are a black family whom I don’t know very well because we have spent most of our time  trying to visit family and going to hospitals, but they moved in just after we did, and we visited back and forth a little when they came.  Down the street on the same side there is at least one other black family because I see their children outside playing with the other children in the neighborhood.

When I came to Georgia in 1970, there was only one nicely trimmed neighborhood where black people lived and most of the other black people lived in medium or poor level segregated onclaves.  It was a year or so after school segregation was officially ended, but it was mainly a formality since it was voluntary and most folks just stayed in their traditional schools.  There was segregation, of a sort, in most retail businesses as well.  Not in terms of customers but among the employees.  One might come to a gas station and a black man would clean the windshield and operate the pump, but there was almost always a caucasian who handled the money  Very few black persons handled money except in the black operated businesses in the black areas of town.

There were exceptions.  A muffler shop that had the reputation of being the best shop in town was owned an operated by a black family, and, speaking from experience, it was  the best shop in town, and there were some African American restaurants in town that were popular with everyone.  As a former bricklayer, I was bemused by the fact that there were, at that time very few (if any) black carpenters or workers in the other building trades except for the bricklayers.  If there were any caucasian brick or stone masons, they stayed well hidden.

Like most southern towns in that period, the black population was necessary to the economics and  there were both friendships and associations between the races, but there was a subtle tension as well.  It was uneasy, to say the least.  A couple of years after our arrival, they officially integrated the schools, using busing to move students around so that there were approximately the same percentage of students of each race in the schools that existed in the  general population.

My wife took a position teaching in the middle school, and the school to which that title was appended was the school that had been the primary black elementary school.  She taught there in the first year of integration and was appalled at the conditions. The school was modern and clean and had all those physical things that you see in a relatively new school, but the only pencil sharpener in the school when it started the year was in the principal’s office.  The inherent lie in the phrase “separate but equal” which had been the Southern definition of segregated schools was demonstrated in that one pencil sharpener.  The books were, for the most part, those that had been discarded when the “other” schools received their supplies.  Typewriters and copy machines were primitive and limited and, in general things were a mess.

Most of this was corrected rather quickly but the start-up situation illustrated how essential school integration was at that time.  Another evidence of  the evils of segregation came to me in the nature of my students.   I came to Georgia from upstate New York, and in my SUNY branch most of my black students were from Long Island, or New York City suburbs, and were in general in the top ten percent of my students.  My black students were, in general, woefully unprepared for college.  IN spite of good high school grades, many were nearly illiterate.

As a professor of theatre, most of the black students with whom I interacted were enormously talented but had many problems because the segregated school systems had robbed them.

I had a “non-traditional student” ( this means that she was a thirty plus year old sophomore) in one of my classes who was, I discovered quite by accident, married to a black man.   We had a long conversation in my office where she discussed some of the difficulties in her situation.  She really didn’t dare go downtown with her husband because on the one occasion that she did so, they were threatened.  She also didn’t feel accepted by her husband’s family and she and her husband had decided that they would have no children till they could move to a different area.  It was an interesting time.

While walking through Wal-Mart yesterday I noted that every person behind a checkout taking money was black.  It is quite a change.  I am not foolish enough to believe that all racial animosity and discrimination has ended, and some new types have evolved, but the changes are remarkable.  Inter-racial couples are common, and seem to be totally accepted.  I noticed a young lady with three children (back to Wal-Mart). walking through the store.  Her little daughter of about six was walking beside her holding onto the shopping cart, and a little boy of about two was riding in the cart.  She had a third child, a baby, lung across her chest in one of those  abdominal papoose gizmos that are popular.  The clothing for all four of them was color coordinated and cute.  The two older children were obviously white, the little girl having blond hair.  The baby slung across her chest was obviously black or mixed racial. 

If I hadn’t been meditating about this post, I might not have noticed.  The group certainly didn’t attract any attention at all.  I seriously think that if she had been in the same situation, with the same children walking through a store in 1970, she would have been taking her own life and the lives of her children into serious danger.

This isn’t meant to be a post on race, but on the discoveries that come as one gets older

I think that one of the problems in the auto industry has its root in the attempt by congress to  legislate car design, but I remember some congressional mandates that made real sense and the carmakers fought against them and won.  I used to have  a 1975 Honda Civic.  I couldn’t legally drive it in the same way today as I drove it then.  I have six children, and we lined the smallest ones up in the back between the hatchback and the back seats, three larger ones in the back seat with mommy and daddy in the front.  I am sure that anyone caught doing that  today would be arrested and who in the world knows what would happen to the driver.

One thing about that car though, ALL NEW CARS SOLD IN THE U. S. AT THAT TIME WERE REQUIRED TO HAVE CRASH RESISTANT BUMPERS.  The bumpers on that little car were supported by what appeared to be shock absorbers and both front and back bumper extended at least eight inches away from the car body.  I had at least three accidents while driving that car that, if they happened today, would have totaled both cars involved.  On one occasion, I pulled out in traffic without noting how fast another car was coming in the lane.  By the time I reached a speed of about ten or fifteen miles per hour the car behind me struck me.  He was going, by his own estimate, about forty five or fifty miles an hour.  The only apparent damage was that we both had sore necks.  I ended up stopped about fifty feet in front of him. and there was no body damage to either car.  In new cars of any brand made today, the damage would probably exceed the cost of the car, and heaven only knows what kinds of physical damage would resulted.  The carmakers managed to get that rule off the books so that they could install plastic bumpers that would follow the line of the car body.

I am running out of rant, but I have to make a couple of other points.  When I was young and working in the broadcasting business, no Doctor or Lawyer was allowed to make commercials or have them broadcast.   Lawyers who attempted to circumvent the law were called ambulance chasers and derided in literature and everywhere else.  I am so tired of hospitals pedaling their latest medical equipment and lawyers seeking suckers to support their latest tort favorites that I sometimes wish I had the power to send them “To a place, faraway”.


At 5:56 PM, Blogger Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

That was more of a ramble than a rant. Even more annoying than lawyers and doctors advertising is prescription drug commercials.

At 6:55 PM, Blogger Three Score and Ten or more said...

I agree with that statement. I can just imagine a doctor being faced with a patient demanding the latest drug (by name).


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