Saturday, August 14, 2010

How Times Have Changed

I grew up in a neighborhood that was all white but there was plenty of ethnic slurring going on. My Irish friends would call me a greasy Guinea a Wop and I'd respond with calling them a mick. We'd smack each other around then go and play ball with each other. We knew very little about the dark colored people who we referred to as Negro, or Brown but never Black. Back in the 1940's it could get you into a lot of trouble if you referred to a person as being Black. Even our super hero, Joe Louis was nicknamed The Brown Bomber, today he would have been called Black. One thing my friends and I were sure of was, we'd stay out of their neighborhood and didn't want them in ours, or there would be hell to pay on either side.

My first real contact with Blacks came when I was about five years old. My father was assigned to fix up some old furniture in a hotel in Asberry Park, NJ which was a real rich resort town back in the 1930's. It was the summer so my Mother who had relatives there arranged for us to go there and have a vacation. Next door to where we stayed was a black family and I played with a kid name Olive Oil, probably a nickname. I was too young to realize he was Black so we got along pretty good. The next time I had any real interaction with them was when I went to Flushing High School. Almost a full decade between Olive Oil and me interacting with the Brown colored people. One term I spent a lunch period with a guy named Eddie Gold who was Black and he lived in the Black portion of Northern Blvd. around Corona. We got along well and he was as interested in what we white folks did as much as I was interested in what his folks did. We shared information without rancour and even let each other in on what we thought was the worst thing about us. This term served me well when I went into the Army.

I was stationed in Georgia 1956 to 1958. President Truman had intergrated the Armed Forces a little before I got in but Georgia was far from intergrated. On the base I went everywhere with my Black friends but once off the base we couldn't hang out together. I remember leaving the base on a pass with them and telling them to come with me or I'd go with them. They told me it wasn't a good idea since they went to Negro bars and if I went with them it would only cause grave problems as would them coming with me in the white section. I was incensed and was willing to fight the whole Columbus police force. They convinced me to go my way and we'd meet on base after we did all the drinking we were going to do in our sections of the town.

As soon as I hit town I made sure the locals saw me drinking from their water fountains, yes they had seperate fountains and rest rooms. It was so bad that when I got married and brought my wife with me to live in Georgia we went to a Catholic Church one night for Bible study and the people there tried to say the mark of Cain was Black skin. There was an uproar caused by my wife and me and we never were invited back. I used to have fun introducing my wife and me to the local rednecks, not everybody was like this but there was a Klu Klux Klan meeting house a few miles down the road. I made sure they knew she was Puerto Rican, I, Italian and we were from New York City, could be the phrase "Damn Yankees" were uttered more than once as we left where ever we were.

Before I finish let me tell you this little story. My wife left for home to have our first child a couple of months before my discharge. While she was with me we lived off base, now I had to move back on base. A few of us who were short timers were transferred to the Main Post as our outfit was gryoing to Germany and we were too short, not in height, in time to serve, to go with them. The guys that came with me to the Main Post were Black and my friends. The new assignment was good and we made friends. I found a few Italian guys that seemed OK. When I moved back on base my new found friends became abusive with their kidding and disparageing remarks were made about my wife. Needless to say I challenged the ringleader who was Italian and my friend, to a fight and he accepted. We were to meet after duty in an isolated place. I was getting ready to go when about five of my Black friends said they were coming to back me up as they heard my adversary and his friends planning to gang jump me. I was sure I could handle him but not with his friends. So I showed up with my Black backers and sure enough my adversary was there with his backers, all Italian and white. When they saw me with my guys they dispersed. There was no disparaging remarks directed at my wife to be heard in the barracks again. Sometimes the good old days weren't all that good.
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