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A Thought About Juneteenth.



When I started first grade in 1950, I was in a segregated public school. Five years later, when I started the fifth grade in the same school, half my classmates were black. My school was located in the middle of Washington, D.C., where the schools were segregated until Brown v. Board of Education, and the D.C. schools, being on federal property, had to integrate right away.

Several of my white classmates said nasty, racist things about the new black kids. They were obviously repeating what they heard at home.

My new black classmates, on the other hand, all seemed happy to be in this new environment and made it clear with gestures and words that they wanted to be friends.

Second story.

Sometime in the Summer of 1957, my father and I went to see the Dodgers play the Braves. Except we didn’t go to Ebbets Field; we drove across the Bayonne Bridge and went to the minor league ballpark in Jersey City where the game was played because Walter O’Malley, owner of the Dodgers, wanted to show everyone that he could play his team anywhere at all.

By the time we got to the park, the only tickets were standing room beyond a three-foot outfield fence which was used by Jersey City as a garbage dump. My father found a comfortable, office chair to sit in, I stood on a pile of garbage with three or four older, black men.

The stadium was sold out because this was the last chance that blacks would have an opportunity to see Jackie Robinson in person because he had announced that he would retire when the Dodgers moved to the West Coast.

In the eighth inning, Jackie came up to bat with a man on base and the Dodgers behind by one run. Jackie hit a line shot past 3rd base and into left field. Billy Bruton, the left fielder for the Braves, who was also black, waved his glove at the ball as it flew past him and there was Jackie, running out his game-winning home run in that pigeon-toed trot that he used.

Ready? The black guys standing around me were clapping, cheering, and crying at the same time. I had never seen grown men cry until I watched how these guys reacted to Jackie’s home run. As I write these sentences, the chill that ran down my spine back then is running down my spine again.

I have never understood why anyone would ever even notice that some of us are white and some of us are black. I have never understood how anyone can think of themselves as somehow being better than any other person just because that other person doesn’t have a white skin.

I don’t know where we get those ideas from, but if the Bible is correct about how it takes seven generations for ideas and beliefs to change, we still have slightly more than 50 years to wait for white versus black racism to disappear.

Meanwhile, I think back to the two episodes I have escribed above and what strikes me about both memories is that it was blacks – school children and old men standing on a pile of garbage – who were having a good time.

And isn’t the whole point of this brief time we spend on this planet to have a good time?

My sister is 72 years old today. Happy Birthday Sister!

Black freedom also has a birthday today. Happy Birthday to you!!!!

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Brent Gurtek
Brent Gurtek
Jun 20, 2023

" When I started first grade in 1950, ..." Mike, that's 1950 CE, correct?

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