"It's rhetoric all the way down." — Steven Mailloux

A little more on race

For the fiftieth anniversary of our graduation, my high school class launched a website. It helped reconnect people, like me, who’d lost touch with virtually everybody from that time and place.  The site is still active, with classmates posting occasional comments, stories, poems, pictures.  Recently someone, not me, started a discussion about race — or race in our high school and the neighborhoods that fed it.  That discussion got me thinking again about my white youth, my white privileged youth. I’ve said before that the kids I was in class with, ate in the cafeteria with, etc. were virtually all “pro-civil rights.” In 2018, that sounds so quaint! But Allderdice High School was in one of the most affluent — and white — neighborhoods in the city.  And I’m going to guess that many of my classmates’ parents were college-educated.  My father was not. That was one of several ways I felt a little marginalized in school.  Still, as a white boy and an athlete and in a couple of Advanced Placement classes, I was accepted and mainstream. So far, the discussants on that site have been a small percentage of our class — and all white. Someone (me?) asked if there had been any black people in our class. To myself, I thought not — or at least I couldn’t remember any. Anyway, the recent posts on the TAHS Class of 1964 website sent me to our yearbook to see. The Class of 1964 numbered 475, of whom three were black – -all girls, two of whom I take to be sisters, perhaps twins.  I remembered none of them. Speaking just for myself and not my 471 white classmates, the invisibility of these three girls is a sign of our privilege. There were some black boys on the football team, one or two, but no one from our class.  It wasn’t til I got to college that I had more interaction with black peers.  But I do want to mention a couple of high-school-age black friends, or friends of friends. There were several of these, not Allderdice students.  Through our church, my horizons expanded a little. Around my freshman year, the church I’d grown up in merged with another Presbyterian church not in Squirrel Hill. It was in East Liberty, what was at the time a declining commercial district with a transitional population.  The high school in that part of the city, Peabody High School, was racially mixed, reflecting the neighborhoods it drew from.  So there were a few black kids in Eastminster Presbyterian Church, one of home, Addison Booker, was a friend of some white kids I’d gotten close to through a youth group.  I remember he was a dancer, none of whom I’d ever known either, and talked about joining the Freedom Riders in the summer of 1963.  I don’t remember if he went or not.  I also made sort-of friends with some black athletes.  I played Colt League baseball for the Shadyside Boys Club team, Shadyside being adjacent to both East Liberty and Squirrel Hill. There were black kids on the team, but I can remember only one name: Tony Henderson/ I believe he had a brother who was also on the team. The games were here and there in the eastern part of the city and neighboring boroughs, and we had to make our own way to the games. This also was the summer of 1963, and although I was 16 I did not have a driver’s license. So sometimes my dad would drive me to wherever the SBC team was playing, sometimes I’d go by streetcar, and at least once, anyway, I rode with Tony Henderson and two other black teammates, one of whom I recall as Tony’s brother.  More than 50 years later, I still have a vivid memory of riding to a game with these guys. laughing and joking. Chuck Berry’s “Mabelene” came on the radio, and the three black kids sang along. In my memory, we were riding in a V8 Ford ourselves.  I didn’t known the song, but I felt like I was being accepted into another world. I think this is the first time I felt any kind of a bond with black people my age.  But I lost track of these guys went I entered my senior year of high school.  I still couldn’t drive, so my relative lack of mobility limited my friendships, and I sort of came alive as a student my senior year — finally getting some decent grades and becoming more involved with extracurriculars other than football. So my vision turned away from my SBC baseball teammates. I never saw any of them again.

 

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