81. Whiter Than White

Today is Martin Luther King day, separated from Black History Month by two weeks. I plan to combine them into a six week period devoted largely to black/ethnic history. Non-related posts will intervene – Jan 27, for example, gets special treatment as the anniversary of the Apollo One fire. Most of the posts, however, will be on ethnic subjects.

Why so much time devoted by a white guy in a blog largely about writing science fiction? This post and next Monday’s will explain.

Whiter than White

I loved my father. Whatever else I say, don’t lose sight of that. He was a good man by the standards of his day, but that day has passed. He wasn’t a racist by the standards of his day. By today’s standards, he would be.

Of course he changed over the years, and if he were still alive, he would still be changing. We all do. But I am thinking of 1966. When Negroes (people didn’t use the words black or African-American yet) marched in Selma and elsewhere, my father shook his head in dismay and said that if the troublemakers would just leave the good colored people alone, everything would be fine.

If that shocks you, let me offer a taste of history – at that time, most of the country agreed with him.

I didn’t have an opinion yet. I had never met a black person. There was one black man who farmed somewhere in the area. I saw him go by in his pickup once in a while, but that was as close to a black person as I had been. (See post 46.)

I had never met a Jew. I had never met a Spanish speaker, nor an Italian, nor a Mormon. Certainly not a Muslim; actually, I had never heard of Muslims. There was one Catholic boy who attended our school briefly. He wasn’t well treated and he didn’t stay.

You get the picture. Not just white – WHITE. And not just Protestant, but Southern Baptist. And not just Southern Baptist, but small-town-Southern-Baptist; not like those liberals down in Tulsa. There were so many Baptists in town that the local high school didn’t dare have a prom. No dancing was allowed.

There were just a few families in the town, each one much like the other. You couldn’t throw a rock in any direction without hitting a Logsdon, or a Logsdon’s inlaw.

But then those black people went marching, and were met with clubs and dogs and firehoses. And when my father (and everybody else’s fathers) said it was their own fault, I couldn’t buy it. When I saw them bloodied and beaten, yet standing firm for freedom and dignity, I knew they were right and we were wrong.

When they fought for their own freedom, they also gave this Oklahoma white boy his freedom. They gave me a new way of looking at the world, and I am grateful to this day.

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