Sometimes we toured by bus. And at first, as I did at home in New York, I would sprint to the back of the bus to claim the rear side, twice as wide as the rest of the seats. That back seat was a small boy's delight, enabling him to slide from side to side on the seat of his corduroy pants as the bus turned corners.
Except that in the Deep South of that time I was spoken to harshly and yanked by the ear to a proper seat further forward in the bus. Little white boys, I was told in hissed tones, did not take seats in the back of buses. Those seats were for the "colored."
In 1948 I went to the Marine Corps, a college boy in an officers' training program at Quantico, Va. There was a movie house on the base and sometimes we got to go to it. But we sat in the orchestra. The balcony was for Negro Marines and their families. We weren't using the word "colored" any more.
By the time I got to Korea and the First Marine Division in 1951, President Truman had integrated the armed forces. Even the Marines.
In January I went down the hill to help Bob Simonis' patrol get back after a bad fight. A couple of his men were dead, a couple hit bad, one of them a giant Negro, a man whose name I didn't know, but whom I'd seen bobbing about the company line, and wondered if back home he might have been a basketball player.
I helped carry him back up to the ridgeline through the deep snow but we kept dropping him. The stretcher kept collapsing. And in the end he died. So we carried in a body, another corpse, another dead Marine. No one asked his color.
All that was a long time ago and plenty has changed in America in the way African-Americans are treated. Thought about. And even spoken of. Consciousness has been raised. Laws have been changed. Black men, black women hold high office. And when white nutcases like the Klan and skinheads and the Knights of the Pale Gardenia and the American Nazi Party start goosestepping about and pulling on the old bedsheet, decent people laugh them into ridicule or turn away in revulsion.
We aren't there yet. Old biases die hard. My parents' generation, my own, we change slow. Our children haven't been raised in the same old racist attitudes, subject to the same offensive stereotypes. Our kids are better than we are.
The country is changing. And that too for the better. The white bigot is no longer tolerated, white bigotry is no longer acceptable. Certainly not to blacks and increasingly not to whites. White racism in America is out of style.
Then why should the nation accept and tolerate and even make convenient, an equivalent black racism?
A few days after the Long Island Railroad killings Rev. Louis Farrakhan brought his Nation of Islam crusade into New York for a rally at the Jack Javits Convention Center. The Reverend said he'd not come to town to preach hate. Some 25,000 of his adherents crammed into the hall, another 10,000 watched on closed circuit from a smaller hall. During his speech Farrakhan mentioned the railroad killings, noting that a young African-American had killed six Caucasians and wounded others. The newspapers reported his audience broke into cheers and applause. Their fellow Americans had been murdered by a whacko and they cheered.
Over Christmas The New York Times reported on another local incident involving a Nation of Islam speaker, Khalid Abdul Muhammad.
Jon Nordheimer of the Times reported that back on Nov. 29 Mr. Muhammad spoke at Kean College in Union, N.J., a state school, attacking whites, Jews and homosexuals in a three-hour rant paid for by student funds. It took the college president, Dr. Elisa Gomez, 10 days to comment critically on his diatribe and to issue the usual blather about freedom of speech, it apparently not having occurred to her that while Mr. Muhammad had the right to say what he did, the college might possibly have declined him its hospitality.
In his remarks Mr. Muhammad spoke of the town of Union as "a Jew stronghold" and of nearby New York as "Jew York City" and of Columbia as "Columbia Jew-niversity." He concluded this appetizing rubbish with the suggestion the Jews brought down the Holocaust upon themselves by being beastly to the Germans.
Then he warmed up. When blacks gained political control in South Africa, he proposed, whites should be given 24 hours to leave the country. As for those who remained, he said:
"We kill the women. We kill the babies, we kill the blind. We kill the cripples. We kill them all. We kill the faggot. We kill the lesbian .|.|. when you get through killing them all, go to the goddamn graveyard and dig up the grave and kill them a-goddamn-gain because they didn't die hard enough."
According to reporter Nordheimer, "laughter and applause are heard (on the tape) after these exhortations."
A black faculty member responded to criticism of the Muhammad remarks by talking of a white power structure on campus and warning that Jewish faculty "will punish anyone who has a valid criticism of the Jews."
I didn't understand way back then in the South why I couldn't sit in the back of the bus and that black adults had to. But I was a child. There was much I didn't understand.
As I don't understand now why publicly funded institutions play host to racist garbage and encouragements to killing, whoever the source, whatever his color.M