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.
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.