Monday, October 13, 2008

Another 40 years...


Here and there, as I've caught bits on radio or television or scanned blogs and print, I've seen references to the presidential election of 1968 and the George Wallace campaign in particular. Readers, I'd been thinking those same thoughts but had not voiced them. To prove that I am not recycling content, I'm going to share another elementary school memory.

1968, for you pretty young things, was not a pretty year.  1968 is why protesters are now contained in fences far away from political conventions. Why you don't see coffins come home on CNN.  People were dying abroad and on American soil for the issues in play in that fall's election.

I grew up in a Texas suburb that had "desegregated" by writing a policy. The policy was "school choice."  Students could attend any school in town, but they could only ride a bus to their neighborhood campus. Again, for younger readers, this was not the open door shindig it may appear. Many families had one car, and that car was used for one person to drive to work. Most elementary children got to school on foot or bike or on the bus.  This policy remained in place until my graduation, as far as I know. In 1977, my graduating class of 626 was "integrated" by perhaps ten African-American students.  I never sat a class with one of them. Our school song was "Dixie." The confederate flag flew at football games. Yet we were, for the most part, good kids. 

But I digress.

At the Blue house, politics veered pretty darn far to the right, at least where my father was concerned.  My mother never said much, which I now know meant she spoke volumes. But "hippies," "liberals," "communists," and "Humphrey" all pretty much added up to the same thing in the paternal lexicon. I honestly don't remember which of the other two candidates he actually supported. I suspect I'm afraid to remember.

But I digress yet again.

Even in elementary school, it was impossible to escape the campaign.  All most of us had in our homes for entertainment was a single television, so we all saw the same news. At least our input was fairly consistent. 

Every day at lunch, in the School Cafetorium, we'd peel the tops off our "ice milk cups" and start politicking. Amid a fair amount of trash talk (always within acceptable volume limits, lest the red-yellow-green traffic light of silence glow crimson), nine- and ten-year-old Americans would vote with their wooden spoons.

N

H

W

The letters were carved into the pristine surface of our dairy-ish confections. I will admit, right here and now, that I did not commit firmly to Humphrey, a fact I now regret. I like many others vacillated between the N and the H, depending on the mood of the day or the friend of the moment. 

But you know what?

The W kids never wavered. They knew. They sat together, and they never changed the letter they carved. 

The cafeteria contained nothing but white faces*. Those kids (well, most likely their families, but still...) may not have known what Wallace was for, but I'm pretty sure they knew what he was against.

And that is exactly what I remember when  I watch those clips of angry, fearful faces at McCain/Palin events. 

The Wallace Kids.

* I no longer live in the town mentioned above. Out of curiosity, I visited the school's website. Its population now appears to be significantly made up of children of color, which suggests that the same de facto segregation policy is still in place.


6 comments:

Karen Maezen Miller said...

I share your outrage and terror. But I remind myself that this stuff never dies. I've removed myself from Texas, but I have neighbors across the street who think like this, and now we know that some streets can never be crossed.

I take comfort in what Gail Collins reminded us after the hullabaloo of the Republican convention: California, like Texas, has already voted. The election is already over for most of us, and more of us every day.

MBG said...

-I have no recollection whatever of elementary school Wallace supporters. Who were they?
-I remember guys on the fort yelling out "All those for Humphrey get to the top of the fort"...that sort of thing. As I remember, the guys were just about equally divided, which mirrored the general election. Funny thing, that.
-Johnson was the last Demo my father voted for, so I pretty much had an earful at home about "Nixon the Anti-Commie."
-Back in the 80s, the SGHS flag was changed. For most students the flag was about the school and did not have any rooted-in-history significance. I agree with the decision to change.
*Historical footnote: The Ofishul Dicksie Phlagg was actually square, not rectangular.
All best, Brent

bluelikethesky said...

Good to see you back, Karen. Interesting to some, but not to the aware, is the fact that the ugliness appears to be nationwide.

Fear is like that, and fear is at the base of anger.

bluelikethesky said...

Brent, my memory isn't specific for names.

Are you sure they weren't sending the Humphrey boys to the tops of the fort so they could light a fire (grin)?

I share your memory of the flag being - at least for us - a fairly benign thing (and I vividly remember our few African-American students doing the bump to "Dixie" in the bleachers during pep rallies. But our feelings weren't the ones that mattered. I think the decision to remove was the correct one.

Christy Raedeke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christy Raedeke said...

Excellent post, Blue. And thanks for the link to the Margaret and Helen site - a new favorite!