"We've gotta cut some slack to people who grew up being called names; being told you have to sit in the balcony when you go to the movie; you have to go to the back door to go into the restaurant; you can't sit out there with everyone else, there's a separate waiting room in the doctor's office; here's where you sit on the bus .. . And you know what? Sometimes people do have a chip on their shoulder, and resentment, and you have to just say, "I probably would, too. I probably would, too. And in fact, I may have had more of a chip on my shoulder had it been me."I'm one of those people who grew up in privilege. My childhood was a succession of encounters with Black persons. There was Ophelia from Harlem who cleaned our apartment. There were Clemmie and Ermadine. Students at Tuskeegee who came up for the summers and "took care of us" in the country. There was Viola. There was Patsy, Ophelia's daughter, who baby sat. I remember talking into the night.
Trinity School and Trinity-Pawling where I went for a year, had no Black students. There was a Carl Marazzi and a Dick Steinborn and a Bob Lenzner and a Dicky Paul and a Bill Rewalt, but no Black student. It was the '40s.
When I got to Exeter, my closest neighbor was Black. This was 1951. His name is Bob Storey. He is retired now. A lawyer from Cleveland who has a second home in Paris. Bob's wife sits on the board of a geriatric hospital at Western Reserve which was originally established by a Benjamin Rose in the 19th Century. He was a successful Englishman who returned to England after making a fortune. Childless, his estate was given to support white women in straitened circumstances. The permutations of philanthropy.
At Exeter, Mike McCrary had records of Leadbelly, Cisco Houston, Woodie Guthrie, Pete Seeger. I had come to the awareness that Andrew Sullivan apparently came to. His blog says "no party or clique". My remark then, and since, was that I had access to cliques. In, but not of.
When I was 17, I drove down to Virginia to Farmville, a bastion of segregation not far from Richmond. I ferreted out information on the problem. I am not sure why. I was interested I guess.
At Williams, there were some Black students, a handful. I never knew them. I did not get into a fraternity. Then I did.
There I met Beth Turner. She was from Chicago. She was Black. She wrote me a note that said she was falling in love with me. We got together. She was engaged. I had never felt freer than I did during that period. Something had happened to me in relation to my Christian faith, before coming to the camp. A liberating communion.
Everything that happened while I was at Rabbit Hollow was like floating on a different plane. Beth was a student at Grinnell.
The person behind the camp was the Rev. James Robinson -- one of the great Americans of the 20th century.
When I got back to Williams, Beth and I corresponded. I am sure we skirted around the issue of continuing our relationship. But I felt I was too young to get married and I knew she was marriage-bound. We would remain friends, with little real communication, until her death.
The same year, it was now 1958, my fraternity refused to consider a West Indian. I protested. The head of the fraternity, now a history Professor at the college, told me if I felt that way I should leave. So I did. When I resigned it set off a small movement and was eventually part of the history of the abolition of fraternities at Williams.
Quite alienated from any thought of going into business or law, I ended up choosing to go to theological school and ended up at Union Theological Seminary in New York. I did not like it academically. It reminded me of a high school that I had never attended. My main contact with Black persons was with kids. There was Boyd Canton at Rabbit Hollow. My all time favorite. And kids from the children's ward at the N. Y. State Psychiatric Institute where I worked as an attendant.
When I finished Union, I was married. We had our first child, Diana. John Collins urged me to join the Student Interracial Ministry. I did.