Since I’ve devoted most of my writing to class assignments instead of the blog, I’ve been debating whether to post anything to the blog. That was the mental debate I had in a previous post. Thanks to some kind words from a couple of followers, I think I’m ok with at least putting samples out here, especially as I don’t plan to publish any of them later.What I’m writing right now is for class anyway, and it’s already been critiqued. Note that I didn’t say it was perfected!!!!
So for your reading pleasure (!) here’s a little sample from one of my classes. Critiques are welcomed, BTW.
The recorded bugle startles me awake. The cover flies up and I’m out of bed before it settles back down, just like in the cartoons. It’s time to get up, and I have to hustle. There’s shower, then my roommates and I have to clean up the room for inspection. Blankets folded and sheets tight. Run a white handkerchief over everything before the CAB gorillas give our room the white glove inspection. Make sure my helmet is polished. Then get in formation for the march to breakfast, bracing myself for the firing of the cannon, the raising of the flag and pledge and the National Anthem, the morning scripture from the chaplain, the morning marches, then exercise, then assemblies, lunch, then more marching, more assemblies…
What I was, and what I was not…
It was the summer of 1970. The dying days of Peace and Love but still a lot of social turmoil going on. Legally, the Civil Rights Bill was only six years old; socially it was still a work in progress. Old habits and notions don’t disappear according to a calendar. I, along with many of my schoolmates was very involved in the local civil rights activity, despite my stepfather’s disapproval. We attended the rallies and marched with the grownups. While my stepfather complained that I should be studying instead of marching, and told me that if I was arrested I was “on my own.” I was opposed to the Viet Nam war, and at just over 100 pounds with the eyesight of a bat, the possibility of seeing military action didn’t appear to be in the cards.
When reveille played that morning, I was entering my senior year in high school. I was not in a real military unit, I was in a unit named “Keowee City,” and we always formed up right next to that damn cannon. This was not on a base somewhere in Viet Nam; I was at The Citadel, just down the street from my home in Charleston, South Carolina. I was one of the first African American students in the state to attend the weeklong Palmetto Boys State summer camp, sponsored in each state by the American Legion.
I was NOT even thinking of “pioneering” anything, although I knew that I’d be among one of the “firsts” that seemed to be a part of every news report during that time. The first Black person to do this. The first woman named to a board. You had no problem picking out our faces in large group pictures. Things were definitely opening up. I never thought (and still don’t think) of putting myself in the same class as those little elementary school kids who braved the angry crowds to become the firsts at their schools. They were the heroes. Me, I just heard the words “summer camp.”
According to the American Legion’s web site…
The program was designed for “young men to learn about the American system of government and politics by participating in a mock governmental system.” Everyone would have theopportunity to run for elected offices, from city council to governor. “Citizens” were nominated by their high school teachers and guidance counselors, then interviewed and selected by the local American Legion chapters to represent them.
According to Mr. Wineglass…
… the Vice Principal, and the letter my parents received, that’s how it was in 1970. It was Mr.Wineglass who recommended me to the African American chapter serving the Charleston area, and his word was good enough for them to waive the interview. It was not going to be the last time he played a positive role in my school life, stepping up where my stepfather fell short. I was one of the students you see all over the yearbook. Most Likely to Succeed. Most Certain to Get Beaten Up by Drunks. Clubs, writer for the school paper, student council, one of the founders of SBC – the Students for Black Culture (approved only after we convinced our principal we were not planning to be the junior varsity team of the Black Panther party) Had my ass handed to me when I tried out for the football team, thinking I could transfer my success as a superstar receiver in touch football over to the real thing. This American Legion thing was right in my wheelhouse. Air-conditioned civics lessons, the only sweat coming from playing games, and for the first time a whole week away from home by myself, at the Citadel no less! We were not talking vacation Bible school at the church’s educational annex. I could handle a week of this.
Since it was free, my stepfather grudgingly gave his approval. My mother signed the approval form. My grandmother cried and praised God. My friends promised to come see me sometime during that week. Mom, Mr. Wineglass, and Miss Harrison, the French teacher and our SBC advisor, each gave me the “representing us” talk.
As far as I knew every Black adult who was the first knew this, and every young Black kid who was the first was told this. Eyes were upon you, and stereotypes, even the ones you have aboutothers, would be reinforced or die based on what happened. I think it’s timeless and reachesacross all cultures – you represent our family, our tribe, our village, our city, our people, our state, our nation…make us proud.
This was not like in sports, where a team could be the first to accomplish things such as winningback to back to championships. Every team has an equal chance. Here, we’re talking inequalities.These were firsts accomplished against forced limitations, against forced separations, imposed upon others based on class, caste, color, anything that makes one group different than another.With that, separation comes expectations. You can’t be as smart as, as good as, and as tough as any other group. I was to remember this, and at least be aware that some people would be sure to remind me of that. The words from the adults to me were the exact opposite – I was to remember that I was good enough and smart enough to be there.
...to be continued