The next year, the Glasgow schools integrated. I began to be aware of a place named Vietnam. Important people in my life, people I just assumed would always be here, began to die. The television delivered more disconcerting news: water hoses trained on marchers in Birmingham; the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy; urban riots; and body counts from Saigon.
To my dismay and that of my classmates, the tough middle school principal who announced the president’s death followed us to high school and tried to keep the lid on as we struggled with race, a simmering anti-war sentiment, long hair and the “Age of Aquarius.”
Among the black kids who joined us in the hallways of GHS were some really good, really brave people and some incredible athletes. Our high school won a state basketball championship and suddenly we kind of felt like family – well most of us, most of the time, or at least some of the time. There were a few, maybe more than a few, who didn’t. But being white and now nearly 50 years removed, it’s not hard to forget them.
Last weekend, my daughter and I watched the movie “Lincoln,” about another assassinated president. I wondered what Lincoln would think of us today. We have an African-American president who, for someone who stood on that sidewalk 49 years ago, represents an astonishing change.
I have grown old and wish I hadn’t. But I wouldn’t trade my time for any other. I am thankful to have lived in such extraordinary times.