Author: Carolyn Gard
When I was growing up in the 1950s I went to many Cleveland Indians baseball games with my father. My favorite player for many years was Larry Doby, the first black player in the American League. It wasn’t until many years later that I found out that Doby was not allowed to stay at the same hotels as the other players. Why didn’t I ever ask, “Does Larry Doby get to stay at the same hotels as the rest of the team?” It never occurred to me that he couldn’t.
On one of our family trips as a child we tried to add states to our list of places we had been. On one trip we drove into Georgia. At the welcome center we went to use the restrooms. The restrooms weren’t just labeled ‘Men’ and ‘Women’; they were also labeled ‘White’’ and ‘Colored.’ So were the drinking fountains. This must have caught my parents by surprise, because we left that state in a hurry.
We treated our black cleaning woman with the same respect as we would treat anyone. She was a guest at my wedding. And when my husband and I brought our first child to visit, Julia announced that she would not be cleaning that day but would be taking care of the baby. Was having a black cleaning woman exploitation, or was it providing employment?
As I look back, I realize that I was brought up to be what might be called race neutral. In my family, skin color didn’t matter, eye color didn’t matter, hair color didn’t matter. What did matter, among other things, were honesty, caring, empathy, and pride in work. With a few exceptions, such as Hitler and Stalin, hate was not tolerated.
Even today, being more aware than I was as a child when I didn’t know Larry Doby had to stay in a separate hotel, I am stunned at the racism that exists. It’s hard to imagine what it’s like to have people walk the other way when they see you coming, or think a future first lady is a maid, or to have different standards depending on the color of a person’s skin. So what are my obligations to Blacks who are discriminated against? Maybe my obligation is to get out there with the protests and the educational activities and somehow show that being race neutral is a lot easier than hating.
I will admit to one action that might be considered racist. When I worked at the Capitol in Denver the House minority leader was from Breckenridge. One afternoon he was headed to Black Hawk for a fundraiser. The organizer called me and asked for a description of Sam. I struggled with it, describing his height, hair, eyes, clothes. I knew it wasn’t enough, and I finally mentioned Sam’s most distinctive feature. “He’s black, “ I said, “and he’ll probably be the only black person there.”
At least I tried!
God, we need all the help we can get to get rid of discrimination. Guide us in our struggle.