Eric Metaxas’ book 7 Women and the Secret of Their Greatness contains a chapter about Rosa Parks, the mother of the U. S. Civil Rights Movement. When I read it, I realized that Dad and Rosa were in Montgomery, Alabama in 1941 when Dad attended flight school at the Maxwell Army Air Force base. In 1944 she worked at the base. Maxwell was one of the Southeast Air Corps Training Centers. Traveling to and from the base was a humiliating experience for Rosa because of segregation policies for public transportation. However, on the air base, she could sit anywhere on a trolley because President Roosevelt had prohibited segregation on military bases. Roosevelt’s executive order 8802 was signed in June 1941 establishing the Fair Employment Practice Committee and prohibiting discrimination by any government agency, including the armed forces.
I never knew Dad as a racist, but his teenage diaries reveal that he was familiar with the n-word. They also reveal a prejudice against Jews. Dad told me that his father was biased against Jews, getting upset that he brought home a Jewish college classmate. His flight log from his tour of duty in India in 1944-45 shows that he used a common slang label for the Chinese that he transported to and from China.
If I didn’t know Dad as a racist, then, what happened to him? I can only surmise. I believe it was a combination of three major factors that influenced him to take a new attitude toward people that were different from him. Military regulations during the war played a part. After the World War
As Air Force brats, my brothers and I enjoyed Mom and Dad’s hospitality toward all kinds of military personnel and civilians. We lived in racist South Carolina in 1959 to 1963 at Shaw Air Force Base. I became acquainted with the n-word and used it in a note to my next door neighbor white friend Mark Tunis following some kind of argument. His mother wasn’t pleased with me and visited Mom and me that evening. I was prone to all things racist too, not because of my parents, but because of the social environment. Mom and Dad returned to Sumter, SC. in 1971 for Dad to join the practice of Dr. Wendell Levi, M.D, a Jewish man. They had taken their medical board exam together when Dad was stationed at Shaw Air Force Base.
I lived through the civil rights movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s. I remember race riots at Rancho High School in Las Vegas following Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination in Memphis. I was scared. Fast forward to the present and I am wondering to what degree I am a racist. Skin color is a major factor in people’s minds. I notice it and I should notice it, otherwise, why are there so many shades of skin color? If we admire the different colors of flowers, animals, fish, insects, even the various colors of the heavenly bodies, why is it so hard for us to respect different skin colors?
I believe there are many other factors added to skin color that contribute to racism. Add together different languages, religions, diets, apparel,
Yes, I see color and differences, but
beneath the color and differences
is a heart that pumps red blood to hands
and feet that like to run, walk, do and feel.
The similarities with different colors point
to love for beauty in the Creator of us all.
1. http://rosaparksfacts.com/rosa-parks-timeline. Accessed 5/22/2017 at 3:05pm
2. P. 143.
3. http://www.montfordpointmarines.com/History.html. Accessed 5/18/2017 at 4:33pm; https://www.whitehousehistory.org/teacher-resources/fdr-a-philip-randolph-and-the-desegregation-of-the-defense-industries. Accessed 5/18/2017 at 4:45pm.
4. https://reuther.wayne.edu/files/LP001295.pdf. Accessed 5/23/2017 at 10:26am.