OMELETS OF HISTORY
Temecula, CA – Though the major fluff news may be The Rolling Stones doing their ‘50 and Counting’ concert tour, high schools all across the country are also celebrating their 50-year high school class reunions. Today 18-year olds may have mansions on MTV Cribz but 50 years ago things were a lot different, for everybody. Men, women, and children all knew they place and what was expected of them. Like eggs at the grocery store, people had their own container and came in white or brown groupings, one egg carton a pale tan reflection of the white sun.
As I open Memoirs by saying that 1963 was the end of the Dragnet generation, that year also marked a time after decades of law-enforced racial segregation ended but before ‘Black Power’ started. For Louisville, Kentucky, desegregation in public schools started the summer before I entered the sixth grade. By the time I graduated 6 years later, the Class of ’63, would be the last class of Camelot, and a lot of eggs, or traditions, be turned into omelets. In November of that year, the President’s Secret Service driver would turn and end Camelot forever with a .45 slug.
In that all too brief time, Male High, to me, was the brightest beacon of ‘the right thing to do.’
For my readers who don’t know Male High it was like this. We are talking Southern Tradition even though Indiana and ‘the North’ were just across the Ohio River. Male High was so old, how old was it? – They built the ‘Old High School’ when just boys, cough, white boys, were the only ones allowed a formal education. They didn’t even have black janitors there at Old High School. Trust me when I say that the debate about letting girls attend ‘old high school’ was still going on when I went there in the tenth grade.
But it’s funny, the building’s essence that you could sense if you walked the halls after school, was like a colorblind mom. The staff seemed to echo that sentiment though there were ‘limits’ to being number one or equal. Looking back now, the gains we made as a group [of black students] in mainstreaming ourselves, becoming a piece of a culture instead of mirroring it, were lost in the coming backlash, another casualty of the assassination.
At Male, which attracted the middle and upper middle class Protestant crowd along with sons/grandsons of Male grads, came the cream of the crop, aka upwardly mobile, black youth, along with black youth who wanted a better education than was perceived available at the previously ‘all-black’ Central High School. And you had the same class mindset for neighborhood whites who lived around the school. From this mix, the two cultures seemed to each generally put on their best manners to dispel the boogeyman stories the other had heard [all their lives growing up].
Another aspect to Male was the large, by comparison, minority class membership. At West End rival Shawnee High, the 16 black youth were waxed out because the school held the official Senior Breakfast at a ‘White-Only’ country club. This was after a seemingly smooth integration transformation. The black youth would hold their own breakfast but the hurt was there, a reminder that not everyone had a good time at every high school in 1963.
I cannot recall the official breakfast Male had but I am pretty sure it was for all the class as a group. I do remember all the black ‘in crowd’, of which I was a part, being on a boat someone’s parent rented, talking about the future like I knew what that meant. Personally I was ready to get out of school and pursue my summer in a theme that would later become the hit movie, American Pie.
Looking back now you can only marvel at what kind of life we might have had with no social mingling barriers. Life is really not like Hollywood portrays it.
In Louisville in those days, pretty much all the whites were in a close range of skin tone running from Irish [freckles, red hair] to French, German w/Moor blood that tan. Black culture consisted of every skin tone and complexion, having various Native American mixtures, West Indian mixtures, European mixtures (from various reasons including rape), and there may have been others. The girls in both groups were complementary not competitive since each had their own perspective captive market of boys.
While it wasn’t a new visual experience for the two dominant city cultures, it was a new social experience. For the real ‘in crowd’ to reign Supreme In The Scene, a gang was formed, but they were cool. It was called ‘a club’. A social club and the brainchild of Ellis, Alphonso, and Paul, Ronald Logan and I were asked to join after a successful Christmas house party engineered by my mother and aunt. I played the breaking hit Shop Around.
It was fun being popular. We threw parties that made the [black] newspaper, set dress-for-the-day trends [Clueless but male], had a stately clubhouse with adult sponsorship, and a celeb member, Derring King, a nephew to Martin Luther King. Even the rich/privileged white kids didn’t have the Royal Dukes type of swagger. I would have liked to have had one big party and brought the music that rocked their socks off. I did break some eggs though, at first by accident.
Coming along at that particular time in history, the first natural reaction is curiosity. Kid curiosity about your cultural counterpart rather than skin complexion. In the black circles, a certain superiority was felt at not having to get a tan by light and medium brown skinned kids. Still, a curiosity remained about sitting in the sun, chatting in a group, and tanning. The summer of sixth grade answered those questions for me and I returned from church camp in Michigan with a pair of girls’ jeans. Being an only child meant I didn’t unpack my own bag, so I got just a quick touch of the mysterious extra pair before they were whisked out of my sight forever.
Given the recent ‘integrated prom’ news from a Georgia high school, perhaps the biggest egg cracked, again, by accident was interracially dancing my last summer at Band Camp, a practice called ‘breaking the dance floor’.
In school, you had friends but you didn’t socialize publicly in mixed company so there were no interracial couples dancing. Couples danced as a cultural couple. Dancing with the stars was dancing with your race.
Junior year going into senior year I had become close Drill Team [ROTC] friends with Doug Cessna, a rock ‘n’ roll Grease 3rd Street type. Fellow black Drill Team member Vic Hardin had unpacked his bag at camp to the tune of ‘somebody’s breaking the dance floor this year’ while he looked directly at me. I expressly denied the possibility of such a thing happening, but in the end, Vic was right and I did break the dance floor.
Cessna and I were talking to two blond Indiana high school cheerleaders with a band during a crossover week there on the dance floor. Doug asked one of them to dance, and with a natural reflex and nary a care to the world or a thought in my head, I asked the other cheerleader to dance. Being from Indiana and not a Kentucky school, she said ‘yes’ as natural as can be. It was a slow dance and two beats in, I mentally said, ‘Uh Oh’, and then finished the dance.
We, the Drill Team members there and myself, left the dance and after a stressful but bonding night with the Drill Team as a unit should any shit go down, the whole incident blew over with the next year’s band session saying, ‘well, they did it last year’.
Now 50 years later the city of Louisville is celebrating another ‘omelet’ milestone, the desegregation of the city’s restaurants and lunch counters, due entirely to the black high school youth who lived in Louisville. Upon talking to several others involved in Martin Luther King’s Nothing New For Easter economical boycott that broke the back of the Jim Crow law, it seems I wasn’t the only one who flim-flamed the folks about their after school participation. Though I won’t see my name on any plaque or in a newspaper photo, it is nice to know the recognition is taking place. I am so glad I went over that day and shook Dr. King’s hand personally. His words about the youth have never left me and just yesterday I shared those words with a member of another group of political do-gooders, the 420Nurses.
This courageous band of models, hitherto exclusively about the cannabis culture, have thrown their Lilith energy into the fray with Moms against Monsanto, the Humpty Dumpty of today who sits high upon the wall of government.
See The Cannabis Calvary Cometh – 25 Days In May, Marching Against Monsanto