The first time I really enjoyed taking the pulse of the country was in 1948. Goodness only knows, a lot transpired after August 1945, and it was time to see whether FDR's mark still prevailed as we converted to a peacetime regime.
Accordingly, I bought a 2-week pass on the Greyhound and headed south. Starting from New York City, I followed the trail to Richmond, where it was hard to say whether the crisp October breezes wafted stronger with roasting peanuts or with curing tobacco.
It was not a political marker, so I headed to Raleigh which surely was. Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond held forth in a warm October sun. Having not been "deep" in the South, it seemed so provincial to me as he spouted traditional "down home" views of the world. I persisted to Chapel Hill and Durham for university relief. My most salient memory of the experience was walking on a broad sidewalk in broad daylight near Duke University where a colored man--most likely a workman--stepped off the sidewalk as we met. Civil rights was what I heard from Henry Wallace in a rally that spring. The Progressive Party attempted to lay out a path to equal rights and were criticized for being in bed with the Commies. Reasoning for me was: The Negro deserved the right to vote as he helped to win the war, and--as the argument went--the USSR could make inroads against us in the Cold War if we were not sensitive to their propaganda.
All this time I was waiting for the weekend to visit my friend, whom I knew at the University of Iowa during the War. My article on OEN, written in 2008 at the time of Dr. King's birthday, tells about my difficulties in navigating a ride from the bus station to their house on the Atlanta University campus. A lot has changed since 1948 segregation.
New Orleans was for the fun of it. I toured by streetcar, recalling stories of Huey Long's 10-cent fare as a gift to the poor in the Crescent City. Also, quite by accident, I ran into a Venezuelan engineer and his wife who were bound back home from a US trip. During the War , he studied water treatment at Iowa. I recalled the day I went with him to an open air plant in Cedar Rapids. This time, we spent a memorable afternoon on the Delta in a sightseeing boat.
TVA was something I wanted to see first hand and Knoxville was its hub. On a weekend, there was no transportation to take me to a dam. Already I had learned an important lesson about the third week of October. Bama and the Vols duke it out. It was UT's turn and our bus from Chattanooga crawled down Kingston Pike past a pep rally.
Still a week before time to go back to the City--and I hadn't heard much public oratory about such a pivotal election. Tom Dewey, the Manhattan DA who ran on law and order, assumed the role of "comeback" for the Republican party. His chances of getting anywhere depended on the Democrats. If they skewered each other badly enough, the public might have none of them. How would Harry Truman come out? He wasn't exactly the world's best answer to longterm leadership, but he had a record to run on, having served through most of President Roosevelt's fourth term.
The South had to be considered in any election and Truman's choice of Senator Alben Barkley of Kentucky as his Veep seemed a plus for a Missourian as President. As I rode into Nashville, I watched an open air rally, with Roy Acuff working the crowd for a local politician--then spent a pleasant morning at President Andrew Jackson's home, The Hermitage. Finally, the speech I had come to Nashville to hear happened. Curiously, I don't remember a thing Barkley said. Which is what made him a good running mate, I suppose.
Back in Manhattan, my roommate surprised me with Broadway tickets to "South Pacific" (Ezio Pinza and Mary Martin). After having spent an odyssey through ethnicity--which opened my eyes to the fact that all political changes come from the actions of people, not platforms and conventions--I recognized that voter dissatisfaction over economics and the stresses of social taboos were what drove change. A crack in the race issue came when Truman desegrated the military. However, it took time for Americans to reach their American dream. So much rural area in the US was still in need of replacing a sharecropper society. The factories which had provided the arsenal of Democracy were busy churning out shiny cars and automatic washing machines.
Curiously, my husband and I were driving through some part of Alabama--or maybe Georgia--in the mid '70s when he asked me why there were a lot of old houses and barns standing gray and empty. I asked him what he expected the people to do-- take them along?
Twenty years later, my husband and I visited San Francisco for a week in April 1968. He was eager to show me the city where he grew up. In that year, politics was being obscured by a full-blown cultural revolution. We lived through the boom years of industrialization and saw the immigration of southern African-Americans to Chicago. Dr. King, slain only days before we left, was metaphor to the madness which unfolded--made more strident by the murder of Bobby Kennedy. Viet Nam terror was still raging and we were about to send our own recruit to its madness.
Youth was deservedly outraged and they resorted to what the young is famous for: testing taboos in politics and sexual norms. We strolled through Haight Asbury, visited preferred cultural landmarks he knew, and watched the sunset over the Pacific at Carmel. One morning, we sat on the deck of the commons building at Berkley and saw students lazing into midterms. When I returned to work, an associate--a member of Women for Peace--filled me in on the march to the United Nations building on the Saturday while we vacationed. It was just one of the events which she described that summer. When the infamous Democratic Convention occurred later, she and her cohorts made a film of the melee at Grant Park. They called it the Second American Revolution. During Mayor Daley's rigorous attempt to show who was boss during the Convention, my husband and I inched through traffic (two cops at every intersection) from southside jobs to reach our lily-white near-west suburb.
One morning, I had an opportunity to do my style of Christian witness. A friend at work challenged me, as we booted the IBM 360 for another week's run. Did I believe all men were created equal? I replied that I hoped so. It was in our best interest to give them at least an equal chance. He, with a stature of a Colin Powell, spoke softly and carried strong convictions. I thought of our church lay leader, built strong and sturdy with pride in Irish heritage--someone who was resolute in keeping "them" from coming down Roosevelt Road to besmerch our lily-white neighborhood.
During our minister's vacation, substitute ministers were called to fill the pulpit. One was a Harvard-educated United Church of Christ pastor who had resigned his pulpit to act as vice-president for "diversity" at a Loop department store. I explained to my associate how there would not be a major scene at church if he and his wife joined my husband and me for what promised to be an inspiring sermon. Then we could have a meal at our house. He accepted our invitation.
What we heard in the sermon was that more peoples of the world demanded to be cared for. In the process, Americans would have to learn that worldly goods for them might better be used wisely to include all God's children. After the sermon there was no outward confrontation. Just what I think of as "slush"--not really ice, but no melting either.
Later, the lay leader's son challenged me. A fifth grader, he was what some thought to be a discipline problem. Bryan explained he had never met a black person and wanted to. So I took him to my friend at work, an African-American woman who taught in the Chicago Public Schools. (She still solves my problems requiring kid-think.) After the speech of acceptance at Grant Park last summer, she called to thank me--for what I don't know. Maybe it was because of our conversation about her great grandson in Oklahoma, who seemed to have doubts about Barack. I suggested he read "Dreams of my Father." She said she'd send him a copy.