Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Musing on Race Relations

I grew up in Florida in the mid 1950's. We had Jim Crow laws and policies in effect. White only drinking fountains, white only restrooms etc. The dividing line was Central Avenue bisecting the city from Tampa Bay on the East to the Gulf of Mexico on the West. If you were a person of color you  lived south of that imaginary border only. This change in my life happened at age nine when we moved from rural Connecticut to Florida.
I had been in integrated schools in New England and suddenly there were only White children in school,my neighborhood etc. Slowly over the next nine years of my life I saw my parents attitude change to conform to the segregated norms of the South.

I joined the U.S. Navy there at age 17 and went off to boot camp in Great Lakes,IL. Suddenly there were people of color in my Recruit company and Senior enlisted personnel of color.
This switch in upbringing would have some profound impacts on my views of America, The South and the Military which would become my career from 1964-1983.

In the 1970's the Army and Navy were experiencing racial tensions and riots at various Navy and Army installations. The Department of Defense (DOD) established a new inter-service school called DOD Race Relations Institute. I volunteered for this 11 week course which was followed up by a 6 week internship training at the Human Resources Management center in San Diego,CA. The following writings are from a small journal I kept of my experiences during this schooling and of a weekend we spent in the Cuban neighborhoods of Miami Fl.

Societies Degradation
Row after Row, Tier after Tier
Societies Degradation!
Cages,Cages, always Cages
Societies Shame!
Dirt here,Dirt everywhere
Societies Blame!
Bare,Dirty, Bars and Screens and Wall
Societies Child!
All heaped and pushed together in Steel, Concrete and Stone!
No today, No Tomorrow, only Forever
Societies Degradation!

The above was written after a visit to the Dade County Jail (locally called the stockade). We were given free access and allowed to talk to any and all inmates. My partner who was a U.S. Army Sergeant suddenly recognized one inmate who had recently been discharged from his Army Unit, here he was in Jail already.
After Graduation I spent the next 3 years as a Race Relations Education Specialist working in Alaska,
 and aboard the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower CVN-69 as part of the pre-commissioning crew.

It was a very enlightening 21 year career. When I entered the Navy in 1962 if you were a person of color that meant you worked either as a member of the Deck Force, Engineering, or asa a cook or Steward. If you were Phillapino you could only be a Steward. Women or WAVES were only allowed to be in Yeoman or Personnelman,  or  the Hospital corpsman ratings.

Thankfully over the years that all changed. Regardless of color or race anyone today can be in any specialty. The first Woman just recently applied to be a Navy SEAL and Woman officers have been serving aboard all types of ships, and even Submarines. Yes its a better Navy today for all.

finally another writing after my Miami experience in 1975 reads as follows

I Must Never Forget
I must Never forget what I have seen!
The wrongs left uncorrected
The people left without hope
The emotions I experienced
Those that shared with me their self
I must never forget that becoming aware I felt the anguish of ignorance and the pain of truth
Let my awareness always remind me of those who helped me to become aware
I must never forget that awareness needs always to be reinforced by looking into the past,present and future.
For awareness is all things, forsaking nothing.

I found this old notebook while sifting through far too many books I own to select some to be recycled. Glad it survived 42years of travel and storage.

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