"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.
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.
There were cynics and responsible sorts at Exeter. I shuttled between and among. I had no religion. Racism was not a word I had ever heard.
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.
In my sophomore year I was strongly alienated from the college and beginning for the first time to apply myself to studies. I ended up gravitating toward the interests of my roommates Phil McKean and Don Morse -- Christian student stuff. I went farther. I ended up becoming consciously Christian. I ended up working at a place called Camp Rabbit Hollow in Winchester, NH.
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.