What made the recent Herald Tribune article about the Sarasota High class of 1970’s 40th reunion newsworthy, was the fact that it was the first time in all those years that the rift of racial conflict between the black and white alumni was finally mended. The article calls it “a benchmark of social progress,” and continues, “The reunions have been mostly segregated for the last four decades.”
This statement shocked me into a tumble of mixed emotions and old memories. The first was shame. Forty years this segregation has continued, though the schools were integrated in 1967? I graduated in 1961 from Venice High and lived without any real consciousness that my contemporary black students from Venice were bused to Booker High in Sarasota. As I look back at the conservative 50’s, I think of myself as one of the naive sheep following the herd over the cliff. It wasn’t the Age of Aquarius yet, but ‘times they were a changin’. Why has it taken so long?
The second was pride. In the 80’s, black students were still being bused out of their home districts. My deaf son was attending the re-opened magnet school – Booker High, which he loved. His junior year he chose to attend Riverview for two reasons: one, it had the only resource teacher for the deaf, and two, he wanted to experience a larger school population and choice of subjects, to see if he could compete with his hearing peers. He could and did, but not before going through reverse discrimination. He was the only white kid on the bus and deaf to boot. He fought back, on his own, on all fronts and stuck with it until, by the end of the school year, the riders respected each other’s challenges and became good friends.
Now in my 60’s, I’ve had the opportunity to travel, teach and volunteer in both the United States and around the world and I still see the horrible inequities of life surrounding us. I was lucky to have grown up in the United States and, being an eternal optimist, I still have hope for freedom and peace worldwide. But, baby, we’ve got a long way to go.