This is yet another post in my “Then N’ Now” series. It is about how I saw the world in the 1940s to the 1960s and how I see it now.
My first fourteen years of life were in Indianapolis, which is a medium-sized town in the Midwest otherwise known as “India-no-place” or maybe “Nap-town”. 🥱. I really don’t know how diverse the Midwest was in those years but I rarely saw anyone that looked different from me. During those years I discovered that Chicago had whole neighborhoods of Polish folks living together. I just didn’t believe it!
The only people of color who I saw were some “negroes” who did the dirty jobs where my father worked. My mother had nothing but ugly words to say about any of them, and my father just didn’t say anything at all. So, as a young boy I was taught that people like me were the only ones I needed to know aything about.
After my mother abandoned the family for greener pastures, we moved to a small rural community about 30 miles southwest. But, again like Indianapolis, I never saw anyone that looked different from me. I was told stories about a family of color who recently moved into town but their house mysteriously burned down within a week of the arrival, and they left, never to be heard or seen again.
I occasionally saw flames in the night sky just west of town. It was then that I became familiar with the KKK. Five years after my arrival in this rural town, I graduated from high school and headed for college.
Even though college was just a hundred miles way, it seemed like I was in another universe! I lived in a Quonset hut type dormitory. Each hut had sixteen rooms. It was the cheapest place on campus and the only one I could begin to afford. A good portion of the rooms in my unit were occupied by people quite different from me.
During the first semester my roommate was a high school friend, but when he got married, my new roommate was from Norway. He knew limited English, but we managed to get along fine. The two across the hall were African-American as we call them now. Since there was virtual no privacy between rooms, I could hear them at night talking to each other. They had a funny way of looking at things but from those conversations I learned that they were pretty much the same as me. I became good friends with one of them.
The diversity of college was an awakening for me. It showed me a world much different than I ever before imagined. It showed me that people who I thought were totally foreign proved to be pretty much the same as me.
Things haven’t changed much in my hometown over the years. The KKK disappeared sometime after I left but many of my classmates still live there. Many are now MAGA folks who I have little in common with anymore.