When I started writing this post, I realized that my topic would expose me. No woman really loves telling her age, but here I am doing just that and I have to say, I think I'm doing okay for an "old lady!" Yes I am a "sixties baby" - the age of psychedelic flower prints, white go go boots, peace symbols, bell bottom pants, Afros, and a message of "love sweet love" that rang out in the love revolution. Our musical tastes ranged from the Beatles to John Denver, from rock-in-roll to soul, from country to jazz and everything in between.
Since I was born at the onset of the decade, I was still in that transition phase form the simplicity of the 50's to the revolution of the 60's. I was raised in the South and despite what you see in the movies, I was taught from an early age to respect everyone young and old, rich and poor, black and white. It's funny because I hear so much about social repression of certain races and classes of people back in the day, but honestly I didn't see any of that. I learned how to say "yes ma'am" and "yes sir" as soon as I could say full sentences. I was taught that everyone was my neighbor, and that true friends were "family." The neighborhood I grew up in was predominantly white but I didn't really think of that so much. Louise, the lady that helped care for me and my brother after Mama returned to work was like an older aunt to us. Oh her skin was darker than ours, but it wasn't something that seemed odd to me. She was like family. It wasn't until the end of the 5th grade that I "learned" about social differences.
The year was 1971. Segregation in most social arenas had faded away with the exception of schools. There were a few black students in my grammar school, but because we were assigned schools based on where we lived, the ratio was low since our neighborhoods did not have that many black families living there. It certainly wasn't due to economics, because I grew up in an average house, eating lots of beanie weenies and mac-n-cheese. It's just that the different races had settled into different parts of town through the years. My grammar school was a first through sixth grade, but at the end of my fifth year, the school board made an announcement that they were implementing integration of our schools. I would not be able to finish my last year of grammar school at my present school. Instead, they were busing us across town to an inner city middle school and busing many of the inner city students to schools in my area. I only lived a few miles from my grammar school, so the thought of having to get up before daylight to hop on a bus and ride many miles across town was the last thing this little girl wanted. Even back then I was not a morning person!
But there we went - all of us from each side of town pulled away from what was familiar to us in a social experiment exercise mandated by the government and Department of Education. In full disclosure, I was raised as a "church girl" so was sheltered from many things that went on in society - both that of the white and black community. Even though it was the sixties, I had not been exposed to the many things that the "hippie revolution" offered - drugs, drinking and "free love." To say that my first couple of months at the new school was traumatic for me is an understatement. It was a culture shock of epic proportions. I met older white boys who had failed school a few times. They had beards and long hair, and stayed high on pot. They were known for pinching girls on the booty - girls who wore mini skirts, low cut blouses and go go boots, and who flirted shamelessly. I saw black boys who were also older due to failing school. They liked me more than I wanted them to and were very forward towards me teasing me in every way possible to get my attention. I saw long hair, Afros, tattoos, cigarettes, beer cans, peace symbols and crosses hanging down bare chests and pierced ears. I saw girls and boys making out in dark corners and sneaking puffs of a joint when they could. I had my purse stolen, my hair pulled, my clothes mocked and my naivety laughed at. It was a world this little church girl had never had a slight glimpse of and this was just middle school!
I can't lie. For the first year or so, the clash of social cultures was difficult for us all - black and white. We were all raised in our own little cocoons, with our rituals, habits, traditions, manner of speaking and activities that were familiar only to those in our communities. But then something begin to happen. As we studied together, sat side by side in desks together, ate lunch in the cafeteria together, played volleyball or did relay races together, dressed out in gym together, cheered at basketball games together, and sat on tattered bus seats together, we found out that we had more similarities than differences; and in the ways we were different, we were not longer intimidated but intrigued. After three years, the "experiment" was proven to be a success and we graduated to the world of high school. By then, it was another transition of epic proportions being underclassmen - babies, passing the upperclassmen - young "adults" in the hall. I was able to attend the high school near my house and actually able to walk or drive to the school. By then we were a tight knit group - this integrated "family." The school board and government had their balanced "ratio" and we had our forever friends and classmates. No, everything wasn't perfect, and sometimes our cultures clashed. Not because one was better than the other, but just because we were accustomed to different lifestyles, routines etc. but we grew and matured and expanded our wings. My senior year of high school, I was the National Honor Society secretary. My best friend, also an honor student. was Asian. Our class president was a brilliant and funny young black man with a 4.0 average.
Reflecting on this time of my life and then observing the clashes in our society between races and cultures today, I find it hard to even listen to the rhetoric spewed by mainstream media and by political leaders. This "we've come a long way but have a ways to go because people still aren't being treated fairly" is a cop out. Rather than coming a long way, we've gone backwards in the last decade! The days I experienced 40 years ago were filled with much more acceptance, respect, understanding and cooperation then what is happening now. Back then we didn't blame each other for what our ancestors had done a hundred years before we were born. We didn't feel like we were victims because we were forced to think of someone besides ourselves when we first came together and we didn't expect our teachers, community leaders or government officials to fight our battles, pamper us or give in to our selfish whims. Rather, we tackled the social changes head on and courageously. We celebrated the many ways we were alike rather than argue about the many ways we were different. Our parents taught us the one key element to success in society and in life - respect. If human beings do not have respect for others and respect for themselves, then society falls apart. This sense of entitlement, of pampering and protecting, of selfishness and superiority, of disregard and divisiveness is all due to that one word - respect. Rather then becoming a progressive society like we "say" we are, we have become a primitive one behaving less than civilized, to say the least.
I am proud to be a "sixties baby" and for the lessons learned so long ago. My prayers are that somehow these lessons that we learned can be taught to our children and grandchildren so that we can find our way back to an age of peace and the "love revolution."