Monday, September 1, 2014

Cambridge, MD - My Hometown

Update - Patrick McLaw speaks out -
Today's Update from The Baltimore Sun - 9/3/2014


Today's Update from The Star Democrat:


UPDATE:  The Baltimore Sun reports today that mental health issues, not books, led to teacher's suspension

read the article here:,0,1577239.story

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Cambridge, Maryland

My hometown.

If you've followed Meanderings and Muses at all, you've read about Cambridge, Maryland, and the deep love I have for it.

I've written about it and referred to it as "The Home of My Heart,"  

I've written about being "A Small Town Girl,"

I've written about "My Bridge."

I've written about one of Cambridge's famous sons, author John Barth.

I've written about Christmas in Cambridge when I was a kid. 

I've written about my dad in Cambridge, and growing up in The Arcade Apartments.

I've written about our class reunions.  We're a tight-knit class, and we have a reunion every 5 years.  Donald and I have made then all except one.  Sometimes we throw a party just 'cause  -  like "The Class of '66 Turns 60!"  

The most recent reunion was our 45th, when Donald and I also celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary.  It was my dream vacation.  My idea of heaven.  AND, the topping on this grand dessert of a trip, was a family get-together with The Wilkinson clan.  Cousins I had not seen in more years than should have been allowed.

I've written about how conversations with best friends pick up as though we just chatted the day before.

What I haven't written about is how my heart was broken by this town during the '60s.

Cambridge was one of the first places the Freedom Riders visited.

Here's what I remember.

My dad and I stood at the beautiful big bay windows in our apartment in the Arcade.  We watched young, well dressed blacks get off a bus and attempt to walk into the drugstore in our apartment lobby.  I remember asking my dad what was going on, and he explained a little by saying the people we were watching get off the bus wanted things to change.  And that people were scared of change.  And that it would get ugly.

That is the only memory I have of that day, but I knew something was wrong.  I was 14 years old.

The memories following this day are a jumble, but they're vivid.

For the next few years all I remember clearly is that we seemed to  fluctuate between things being normal and things being violent.

I don't have a clear time-line of it all in my mind.

I remember National Guardsmen lining our downtown streets.  They were armed with rifles and bayonets.  They slept in tents in our school yards.

Then they were gone.

Then they were back.

The drugstore in the lobby of our apartment building closed down.  This rather than serve blacks.

The public swimming pool closed down.  The chief of police said he would rather pour dirt into the pool and plant flowers than allow blacks to swim in it.

We were on TV.  People all over the country watched a white man who owned a local restaurant smash a raw egg over the head of a young black man who was part of a sit-in in front of the restaurant.

We were written up in Life Magazine.

Robert Kennedy came to town.

H. Rap Brown came to town.  

Ironically, another memory is of my dad and I standing together at the window again.  But this time it was a window in our house on Bucktown Road, outside of town.  We had, sadly, moved away from the Arcade Apartments by now.  We saw flames in the distance and my dad said, "Oh, my God, they're burning down the town."  And as dumb as it might have been, because by this time the violence had gotten really bad, mother and dad and I got in the car and drove into town to see if it was, in fact, burning down. 

What was burning was the black section of town.  This act has since been attributed to words spoken by Mr. Brown while standing atop a car shouting "If this town don't come around, this town should be burned down."

I didn't write about these things, but Peter B. Levy did, in a book named CIVIL WAR ON RACE STREET.  (ISBN 0813026385).

No, I have never been so naive as to think or remember Cambridge as Utopian.

No, sadly, I know better.

I remember.

And if I ever come close to forgetting, I remember a more recent incident.

We were at a class reunion.  Donald and I walked down to the water.  A classmate, someone I considered a close friend, walked down to join us and we chatted about how much we loved Cambridge.  And how much we loved the Class of '66.  He looked at me and smiled and said, "Know what I love best about it?"  What, I asked.  "That we were the last class to graduate without any niggers."

Something inside me shattered.

And, I will never, never forget the smile on his face.

But, still - my love for Cambridge rests in my heart.

Then today, I see this.

Patrick McLaw

and I read this:

Language arts teacher banned from school for writing fictional books

and this:

In Maryland, a Soviet-Style Punishment for a Novelist

and this:

Did This Teacher's Novel Cause Craziest Police Overreaction Ever?

All these years, it seems the home of my heart hasn't changed a bit.  Back in the news for the worst possible reasons.

At least, that's how it seems today.

I've been cautioned to wait until we learn the rest of the story.  I will certainly be following it - with a heavy heart.

Thomas Wolfe said "You can't go home again."

I think you can.  

A bigger question is, for me - do you want to?  Do I want to?


Libby Dodd said...

How amazingly sad. I was the class of 67 in privileged northern NJ. The only black in town (that I knew of) ironed clothes for people. I have no idea what family she had, but I don't remember anyone of color in school.
Then I went to college and got "educated" about some realities of life. We demonstrated, refused the draft, marched, and so on, thinking it was making a lasting difference.
And here we are. How far have we actually gotten?
It gives me a headache and makes me want to scream.

Kathleen Taylor said...

Thank you, Kaye.