Monday, January 18, 2016

Editing out the shiny parts

I spend a lot of time here taking long strolls down Memory Lane.

I write about my love for my hometown.

And, as we're often guilty of doing, I fear I show only the shiny side.

Today I'm feeling a little sad.

Not sure entirely why - I'm just kinda prone to sad days from time to time.

And too, even though Donald is home today and we're calling it a holiday, it's actually a hard won day of celebration of a man I greatly admire.  

You've read a lot about Cambridge, MD here.  Well, Cambridge has a not so shiny side when it comes to this man and to his fight.

Here's an edited version of a previous blog.  Edited out are the shiny parts.

. . .  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 in 1962.

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 12 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.  It was 1967 and I was 17.  We had, sadly, only recently moved away from the Arcade Apartments.  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 a few years ago.  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.

It made me who I am.  And I thank God most days that I'm not that classmate filled with such ugly hate.  Hate that he's so stupidly proud of.

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