Thursday, December 30, 2010

The first day

My university is celebrating 50 years of desegregation and asked me to supply them a vignette to be published along with others on the first years of desegregation. Here is what I sent.

The First Day
Harold A. Black
Growing up in the segregated south, I had never had a conversation with a white person until I arrived on the Georgia campus with my father for an interview. The university had insisted in its desegregation suit that it had never denied admission on the basis of race, it had just not received an application from a qualified black. We all knew that was a lie as evidenced by the academic and professional achievements of previous blacks who had been rejected for admission. The application form had race on it, called for a picture (as if they didn’t know the race of an applicant from Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta) and an interview of instate applicants. My interview was in Athens because the Atlanta interview date on my letter had already passed before the postmark. So my Dad and I went to Athens where we were subjected to the most amazing interview (I won’t identify the administrator). He did not shake our hands or ask us to be seated. He asked why I wanted to come to the university since I was not wanted. He then used the “N” word. We got up and left. Dad said, “well I guess you will have to go somewhere else.” Instead, one week later I received a letter with a red and black border that said “Inside is your admission to the University of Georgia”. We never figured out why I was accepted.
When we arrived at Reed Hall where all freshmen men were housed, we walked into a crowded lobby and it was like Moses parting the Red Sea. When we arrived at the desk, the house mother said “You must be the Blacks.” Indeed we were. We were shown a room with a single bed. Mom said “Is he the only colored boy?” Yes ma’am. When we got back to the car Mom said “get in. We’ll come back for your stuff but you are not going back in there.” I told her that since I was there I might as well stay. Dad opined that perhaps the university had accepted only one black male and if he were harmed or left because of harassment, they could show that they were rejecting blacks for their own safety. In any event, I certainly was not made to feel welcome. The bookstore initially refused to sell me textbooks, I had to show an ID to be served in the cafeteria and the first time I went swimming on campus, they kicked everyone out the pool and drained it.
That night we had a dorm meeting and when I walked into the auditorium I was determined not to sit in the back (it was back of the bus days) so I walked down the aisle with growing silence behind me. I finally picked out a row and sat down. Everyone on the row got up and moved (this became a common experience since no one sat on the same row in my classes for the first two years). The four guys sitting directly in front of me, turned around to see what the commotion was all about and said “You are a freshman?” “Yes”. “Well we are too, can we sit with you?” These became my closest friends from the very first day. They introduced me to their other friends and Westminster House where I could study in peace. They encountered more harassment than I – even though my windows were broken every night and my room set on fire twice. Yet they never wavered in their friendship. It was as if God said “Harold sit there.”

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