Right Now! I Feel Like A Lily-White Barack Hussein Obama

     Barack Hussein Obama figures to be forty-five years old; I have thirty-five more years of life experience than he does.  Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, my edge of thirty-five years on Obama represents some of the best and worse years in America’s history. 

     Today, Senator Obama and I appear to be at the same point in our lives, relative to race relations; of course, he is only half as White as I am.  Right now, I feel like a lily-white Barack Huesein Obama!

     Being a child of the Great Depression and brought up in a world of despair, my only ray of hope was the reassuring and elegant words of President Franklin Roosevelt, “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself”; I was hungry, Roosevelt fed me, and I believed him.  The Great Depression that had threatened to consume Americans ended in “a day of infamy”, Pearl Harbor; World War II began.  Again, Roosevelt assured my family that this democratic Republic would prevail.  America came together as one; Roosevelt and ten million ‘citizen soldiers’ won that war against seemingly insurmountable odds.  My President served our country for four terms.

     By the time that I was fifteen, I understood American democracy, justice, and the unalienable rights of man; I had been a witness to it.  Like Obama, American democracy and justice “had been seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts”.  

      However, I discovered a defect in my American democratic Republic.

      My early concept of racial discrimination came from a loving compassionate father, son of immigrants, who was a racist even though he would never even think of mistreating Afro-Americans.  My mother, who was an offspring of a father that was a slave-owner who was wet-nursed and raised by a slave nanny and a mother who was of pioneer stock, had no obvious racial bias and loved and was loved by Afro-American neighbors in her youth.  My mother convinced me that my father was totally ignorant about Americans of another color and I should simply disregard my father’s quirk. 

     As a child, I knew no Afro-Americans.  My elementary school in Decatur Illinois enrolled 600 children, 599 white children and one Afro-American sixth grade girl.  Boys and girls were restricted to the playground on different sides of the school and I once crept to the corner of the school to peer around it and catch a glimpse of this ‘Negro’ girl in our school.  I noted that her skin was darker than mine.

      When I got to junior high school, I finally met a bright Afro-American kid with a fantastic personality, Edgar Williams.  Edgar was class president and was elected class president all through high school and, later, I attended Millikin University with him.

       However, it bothered me to no end that Edgar or any other Afro-Americans were required to sit in the balcony of any movie theater in town, should they care to buy a ticket.  Not only that, but Edgar would not be served in the local ice cream shop, Block’s Ice Cream Parlor, if he would desire to purchase and ice cream sunday.  All of this took place in my hometown, Decatur Illinois in the ‘Land of Lincoln’.  This did not fit in my image of justice in my American democratic Republic; it made me mad and I was a helpless kid.

     When I was drafted into the U.S. Air Force in 1949, I took basic training in a squadron of sixty White recruits and did not see an Afro-American Airman until I reported for duty at Westover Air Fore Base in Massachusetts.  I was outraged then to discover that my Afro comrades-in-arms that I daily worked side-by-side with, ate in a separate ‘Service Squadron’ mess hall, slept in a separate ‘Service Squadron’ barracks, and enjoyed a separate ‘Service Squadron’ Post Exchange.  ‘Service Squadron’ was an Afro-American Squadron.  Soldiers who were to fight and die together were segregated; I was prohibited from ‘hanging out’ with my Afro comrades-in-arms that had become my friends.  I lost faith in my American democratic Republic.

      One day, I was officially notified that my Commander-in-Chief, President Harry Truman, had issued an Executive Order commanding that all ‘Service Squadrons’ in the United States Armed Forces be eliminated and all American Service Men and Women be forever totally racially integrated.  I shall always admire and honor President Harry Truman for somewhat restoring my faith in the American democratic Republic. 

      As huge as racial integration of the American Armed Forces was for me, it was a small step forward.  Service Men and Women stationed in Texas and the South continued to be confronted with ‘White’ or ‘Colored’ public restrooms and drinking fountains when they were off their military base.  Even in a democracy, justice moves slowly.

     Later in my life when I became a high school teacher of American History and Political Science, I would lend my ‘White’ voice to that of Martin Luther King and his Civil Rights Movement.  However, the victory of the Civil Rights Movement was a battle fought and won by Afro-Americans and the victory won was theirs; civil rights for Afro-Americans was not won because I cheered them on, or because President Truman integrated the Armed Forces, or President Kennedy enforced integration of schools, or President Lyndon Johnston promoted the Civil Rights Act.  As an American democratic Republic, civil rights won by Afro-Americans in the Nineteen-Sixties should have been an effort by all Americans, ‘we’ as Americans, and not an Afro-American movement to force civil rights for minorities onto the White population.  America had not come together as one; racial discrimination persisted.

      Today, Barack Hussein Obama is sending out that message, “that this nation is more than the sum of its parts – that out of many, we are truly one.”  That is the American democratic Republic that I aspire to and that I want to be a part of and that is the man, Barack Hussein Obama that I want to be my President!  I want to have that feeling of being a ‘Lily-White’ Barack Hussein Obama!

 

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