For some reason the birth of our two children, one in October of 1967 and the other in September of 1969 always seemed to preceded by me being away a great deal of the time. Our daughter Dara was born on September 19th. It coincided with some of the roughest parts of my two years as human relations coordinator. Dara was born with a full head of hair and long nails and a propensity for being up for most every night. We found out 9 months later that she was allergic to milk and her first two years of life saw her eating NeoMullSoy and Honeycombs. She was happy most other times and was really quick to learn. At one year and nine months she was able to speak in sentences. Her first utterance was to describe her brother’s noisy activities in his room. She said “Mak moving chairs.”
I began the year working mostly at the Delhaas 9-10 building, but also worked at the Woodrow Wilson Senior High School. There was trouble in both buildings. Most of the trouble at the 9-10 building was instigated by girls. There had always been conflict both among girls and between groups of girls. Throw in some racial dislike, stir and you had a recipe for horror. We had a few knifings and fights and students threatening teachers. It got so bad at one point that we had to call in police to monitor the halls and then dogs to go with them.
At the end of one of the school days, we were faced with a bus driver’s walkout. There were over 2400 students who had to get home ( few walked) with now drivers. At this point we had accumulated a number of administrators and some teachers and actually drove the busses home ourselves. It was ball for us to follow the kid’s directions to their bus stops. I am not sure how we all managed to do it. We settled on having administrators from other buildings monitor the hallways. That, along with administrators sitting in on classes and observing seemed to calm things down.
I was assigned to visit the homes of troublemakers and peacemakers and see what I could do to get the parents involved. I also met with community leaders, political, social and business to see if there could be any help. I called on the various interest groups ( which some people called outside troublemakers), to see if they could help. I did happen one day to become acquainted with an African American woman named Sarah Jackson ( now deceased), who had been a fixture in her community for many years. She had preceded the Black Awareness movements and did yeoman work in keeping families together, young people on track and inserting the needs of the African American community in the forefront of the municipal and school authorities. I became very close to Sarah and her husband. We used to watch baseball on tv at their home. Many nights I would eat dinner with the Jacksons rather than go home and come back for a meeting.
Sarah was a fine and tough person. She always was on the right path.
One evening, I was leaving the Jackson’s home and standing on a street corner in the Red Wing section of Bristol Township. I was speaking with some of Sarah’s neighbors when two shots rang out very close to us. We kind of ducked and tried to creep into the shadows. I had been standing right underneath a streetlamp under a stop sign. We all were rather tentative in our moving out into the light. I examined the stop sign and saw that two holes were drilled into the bottom of the sign. I believe that someone was either sending me a warning or had been a bad shot. Somehow, I never heeded that warning and ran into another terrifying situation. I guess at age 30, I was still invincible in my own mind.
Sometime later in my human relations career, I was at a meeting of township authorities, and local legislators and other community people. The audience was almost entirely white. The conversation started to turn nasty about how this was all the fault of the African American kids in the school. Without any information, the crowd started to get very ugly. I was the only representative of the schools there. I tried to calm things down with some semblance of the truth, but I was not getting anywhere. A bright idea roiled through my brain when I said, “The black kids are not the whole reason for many of the problems, there are some white kids who are real trouble makers and the worst of them is Larry Fields.” Why I would have named someone, I don’t know. I guess it was getting so bad, that I had to do something. However, this was not the thing to do. There was a complete absence of sound for about five seconds. How was I to know that Larry Fields father was in the audience. I could hear the sound of large shoes coming up from behind me and a pair of huge hands encircled my neck. I was rising from my chair and might have turned blue, had not a number of the crowd reached over to grab my assailant and pull him off me.
It happened so quickly that I could not even prepare myself for some sort of strategy. As I told you, I had a very bad temper. When the hands were released, I was ready to do mortal combat with my attacker. Some of the people in the crowd must have seen it on my face and began to restrain me as well. I calmed down, went to the men’s room and got into my car and went home.
As I look back at these times now, I realize how foolish I had become. I believed that no one cold possible dislike what I was doing. I drove around with the police in their cars, met with young white toughs in their homes and on the street trying to convince them not to take drugs, staying in the black community with folks long after I should have, taking chances in the schools when there were full fledged riots. No incident better describes this stupidity then a meeting that I went to that was sponsored by the school district. It was supposed to be a community meeting to discuss the violence in the schools. It was at a community center in the township. Most of the central office was to be there. That would have been about 5 or 6 people, including some principals.
Carol had a class that night, so I had the responsibility of having my son with me and decided to take him with me to the meeting. I was going to sit in the back and just be a daddy and not a participant. When I got to the meeting, at about 7:00 p.m. I was among the first ones there. As time went on the place really filled up and with the most amazing amalgam of people. By the time it was full, here were the cast of characters, other than plain community people; the National Socialist White People’s Party, the Black Panthers, the Tri State NAACP, and the American Nazi Party. I was the only representative of the school district there. I was sitting in the back with my son Marc slung over my shoulder. I had a bad with a bottle and diapers ( no pampers yet again) slung over the other shoulder. No one from the district showed up. I did not know what to do.
Most of the community people knew me as did a few from the organizations, but not many. I later learned that all of the other school personnel had been warned off because they had been told who was going to come. I guess I didn’t get the call or there never was a call. So . . . I had a few choices, I could sit there looking dumb, get into my car and leave or get up in front of these people and tell them what the real stories were.
I decided on the last choice. To this day, I believe that my son saved my life. If he had not been sleeping on my shoulder, I would not have gotten out of there unscathed. Bless you Marc. I got to the front of the room and told the people what had been going on in the schools. I told them that the radio, tv and newspapers were not the best source of information and that I would be happy to answer any questions right here and now or call me and I gave them my office number ( no cell phones). There were angry questions, frightened questions, racial questions, anti- semitic and anti-black questions and also frightening stares from people who wore sun glasses and those with eyes that could look right through you.
I am not sure that I satisfied anyone. The papers covered the event and kind of made me look like a shill. They never mentioned my son at all. This was not the cure for all of the problems to come. For the 1969-70 and 1970-71 years, the 9-10 building and later the 11-12 building ( as students went to the high school) were scenes of terrible unrest and uncertainty. Staff stayed, but administrators left to school districts where these problems did not exist. The high school principal, Todd Fraley left after the 1970-71 year and Joe McShea became the principal of the 9-10 building in 1969-70. Joe’s exploits and the human relations program were chronicled in the Saturday Review in 1969. I still have a copy of it in my desk somewhere. Joe was the hero of the piece, as well he should, because he later made order out of chaos by speaking softly AND carrying a big stick.
The biggest change happened in the high school in the Spring of 1971. A large contingent of African American young men all decided to roam the halls in a menacing manner. They entered the cafeteria during a study hall. Unbeknownst to anyone, all other doors to the cafeteria were locked with chains, so that no one could get out. There ensued a bloody physical conflict between the black kids and the white kids. Administrators, who were in the hallway, me among them, rushed to the cafeteria and started pulling people off each other. Hal Horrocks, an assistant superintendent got bloodied, as I did, and we stopped the melee within five minutes. It was horrific. We calmed people down, sent the injured to the nurse and called for the police.
Now you know why I was not going to continue as Human Relations Coordinator. I left that job to Sarah Jackson. I believe that I had some impact, but not enough to mitigate generations of hatred and mistreatment. However, the story was not over and a new regime took over the high school and I was one of the marshalls.