Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Sixties - Part I

You must be the change you wish to see in the world. 
 ~Mahatma Ghandi

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.
Bishop Desmond Tutu

The 60s were a whirlwind, a time of tumultuous social, cultural, and political change.  The decade opened with optimism and ended with radical changes in every aspect of American life.  It was a decade of freedom riders, sit-ins, voting rights drives, demonstrations, the rise of the Kennedys, the horrific bombing of the Church in Birmingham, the War on Poverty, boycotts, feminism, space exploration and the murders of John, Bobby, Martin, and Malcolm.

Our first new house - 9544 S. Union - Chicago
During the sixties we moved into our first new home, (mortgage payment, including taxes, $118.00) had two more children, worked every day, earned my master's degree from the University of Chicago and my husband began work on his Ph.D at Northwestern.  He started teaching and by 1968 was the first Black Superintendent of Schools in Harvey, Illinois.  I taught in the Chicago Public Schools and by the end of the 60s was a multicultural consultant in the Park Forest, Illinois School District. We thought we would spend the rest of our life in Chicago and didn't have a clue that our stay in the Second City was coming to an end.

Our life settled into a comfortable rhythm. We were active in our alumni club and spent a considerable amount of time raising money for the college and encouraging young people to stay in school. We also became politically active because Chicago was Mayor Daley's town and politics was the way to get things done. 

I loved teaching, much more than administration where I spent most of my working years.  I had 52 students one year in an eighth grade class.  Our school was so crowded that we had to go on double shift. (8:00 a.m. - Noon and Noon - 4:00 p.m.)  Many days I taught both shifts and made double salary.  The school was one of the poorest in the city but the children were hungry to learn.  There were many gang bangers in my class but I never had a problem.  When they were planning a gang fight they were polite enough to notify us so that the students who weren't in gangs could get home before the fight. 

We had school parties at my home and some of the students would come out on the weekends to help me work in my garden.  Once I asked a group why they used their weekend that way and they told me that they liked working in the yard because after working they could take a bath.  (They didn't have a tub at home.)  Each class was offered a reunion party at my home when they finished high school and at one party only one of my eighth grade students was not graduating.  She was so impressed that she vowed to go back and complete high school.

Reunion at my house of eighth graders that I taught when they finished high school
The girl on the right in the maroon sweater became an editor at Essence Magazine.
The girl on the far left is the one who went back to finish high school.

Another former student, who is now a judge.  
We ran into each other in the Bahamas at a conference. 

Our segregated neighbor was very friendly and safe. There were a few white neighbors who refused to move no matter what the "blockbusters" offered them. We knew each other's life stories including the warts and successes, socialized together, and looked out for each other's children. We walked to the neighborhood park to watch the boys' baseball games, shoveled snow together to keep our street clear, shared food when someone didn't have any, and spent evenings on our porches where we gossiped, discussed daily happenings in the world, and made plans for the future.

We supported King when he came to Chicago, and sat up the night he was killed watching parts of the city burn. Could not understand the burning of the businesses that supported our community.  It was a very terrifying, violent time. It was frightening because no one could predict what would happen next, like the time I was entangled in one of the marches with King and thought I would be killed by the angry protesters.

We were shot at twice during the 60s.  The scariest one was the time we were driving with the boys to see my husband's family in Louisiana.  There were no hotels we could stay at along the way. The interstate system wasn't completed so much of the trip was on two lane roads.  We would pull into the woods to eat the food we had packed, to take naps, or to relieve ourselves as it was a very long trip with few facilities available for Blacks.  A truck load of white guys saw us in Mississippi and they had a truck load of rifles which they started using on us.  Luckily I was napping under the steering wheel and took off immediately, driving over 100 mph.  We did manage to escape.  It happened again in Cairo, Illinois so it wasn't just the South.  We called the North, up South.

Sometimes, a neighbor would light up a grill and other neighbors would rush into their homes to gather meat for an impromptu, communal bar-b-que. On one of those occasions when we went to get our meat, I looked out our front window before we returned, and saw an army car parked in front of the neighbor's home and two soldiers walking up to their front door.

"No." I screamed.  I knew immediately what they would say.  Our neighbor's son, Richard, the favorite child of the neighborhood, was killed in Vietnam.  We had a funeral to plan. 

All of a sudden Richard's father ran wailing out of his house.  The men in the neighborhood chased and caught him. A loud shriek from the house sent the women rushing to comfort his mother.  Waiting with his parents for his body to be returned was difficult and agonizing. To honor Richard we put flags in our yards and became anti-war zealots.

One poignant memory of the 60s involved a visit  we made to see a neighbor who was confined at a mental institution.  While we were visiting, I was surprised to see a friend from my high school dance class pirouetting down the hallway.  We were startled and taken aback when we saw each other, asking each other why was she in this place. 

An older, wise woman, who was quietly rocking in a rocking chair and was also a patient, glanced at us and made a pronouncement I've never forgotten.

"Well," she declared.  "Like I've always said.  You never know who you'll meet in the crazy house."  

What is you most memorable moment of the '60s?

When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.  
~Mark Twain 

Madness need not be all breakdown.  It may also be break-through.  
~R.D. Laing, The Politics of Experience


  1. Thank you for visiting my blog and what a pleasure to visit yours! You have an incredibly beautiful family and I know you must be so proud! I look forward to visiting again! I'm glad you enjoy the quotes. I find it a peaceful way to wind down my day and others seem to enjoy it, too.

    Have a beautiful evening and a lovely day tomorrow!


  2. You have no idea just how many images/thoughts come flooding back to me as I's as if we witnessed history through the same eyes (only different). The events of the 60's shaped me in so many fundamental ways...what an era!

    I was shot at in Florida.

    I moved to Park Forest South in the mid-70's, to earm my Masters at Governors State. The village has been renamed University Park, and I returned to my home here just a few years ago.

  3. We have crossed paths many times. Maybe we met in a former life.

  4. I really enjoy reading your posts and the way you write. I can see things so clearly through your words. And being shot at! How terrifying! I'm sorry you had to deal with something like that. It just seems to unreal that people can do that to each other. Thanks for sharing this. It's given me something to think about today.

    Oh, and I haven't forgotten that you asked about how to do the button! I goggled blogger buttons and found some tutorials but I didn't have a lot of luck with them working. I ended up playing around with a few of the codes and came up with something that worked. I learned more about HTML that I ever wanted to! I can share my code with you, if you like. I think it should work if you just swap my URL and photo URL with your info.

  5. I was a young teen in the 60s. I graduated high school in '69. I remember that vividly, as well as the moon landing. I also remember '64 when the Beatles came on the scene in America. I totally embarrassed my sister when the movie, A Hard Day's Night, came to our small town. I was screaming along with all the other girls in town and she was quite ashamed of me. Ha! I'm glad I have no "shootings" to remember. I sure am glad you got through those years with your lovely family.

  6. "Former life"? I dunno. That idea goes waaaay beyond my beliefs.

    Still, I've been wrong so many times before, anything's possible.