“Until you change inside, all the laws you can pass ain’t gonna do a bit of good.”
Produced by Emmanuel Higgins for Flight Paths. Thanks to Mr. Allison for sharing this story.
Transcript for Racism Is a Disease
I grew up right here in Gary. I was born here in 1938. Gary used to be a bustling, bustling city. Downtown was nothing but shops, stores, and everything. Citywide was nice new homes, and all that. You didn’t have a lot of vacant, dilapidated houses that you have today. This was going back in the ‘40s, coming forward. It used to be a very nice place to live. It’s still a nice place to live in pockets, in certain places. But you don’t have the jobs that you have, you don’t have the industry, you don’t have the stores, you don’t have all of that anymore like you used to.
When I grew up as a youngster, there was only one integrated school here, and that was Froebel. And the white students did not want us at Froebel. They went out on strike for two months, but they finally relented and we went to Froebel. The only other school – high school – that we could go to was Roosevelt, and that was all black. And it wasn’t until 1949 that they integrated Emerson.
See Gary was a very racist city; a lot of folks did not know that. Downtown, there’s railroad tracks by the old Sears building. When the lights went out, you had to be on the south side of those tracks. You wouldn’t be downtown. The Little Cal River, on the southside out here, that was the dividing line between Gary and Glen Park. Now Glen Park is a part of Gary, but that was a white area. We didn’t live out there, we didn’t even go out there. Passed through there – that was it. Crown Point, we live out there now, but at them days, we didn’t live out there. The only time we went to Crown Point was when we went to court out there or went to visit somebody in the county jail. We were channeled into our own little area.
Same thing was in Chicago. They came up here from Mississippi; there was a big push to come up here to go to work in the mills. Blacks came. Come to find out, it was better down there than it was here, because they channeled into the area on top of each other. Uh-uh, Skokie, you didn’t go into Skokie unless you went in there to work. When night came, you better be out of there.
But racism is inside people. Until you change inside, all the laws you can pass ain’t gonna to do a bit of good. A good example: 1974, they were bussing the kids from Chicago into the suburbs. Women out there in their housecoats, curlers in their hair, spitting at the kids, throwing eggs upside the buses, ‘cause they didn’t want the blacks in the school out there. Same thing was happening in Boston at the same time.
Racism, it’s a disease – I’ll call it a disease – that people inherit. They’re taught that by the adults around them. You can tell a child what to do – “don’t do this” or “don’t do that” – but they’re watching you and they’re listening to you. That’s how they’re being taught. You got to start telling a child from the ground up how they’re supposed to conduct themselves, how they’re supposed to treat other people, how they’re supposed to be treated.
The only thing that I can say that I would change – or try to change – is the way people feel about each other. Color or your nationality shouldn’t be a part of your life, nobody else’s life. What do you have that you can give me? That’s all that I need. And when I say that, I don’t mean money-wise or material-wise. But what do you have education-wise? There are some things that you know that I don’t know, and I’m eighty years old! There’s a lot I can tell you, but we have to, like I say, respect each other, and take what you have and use it to build on. That’s all I can tell you. I enjoyed talking to you, and I hope that some of the things that I may have said will become a part of your regiment.
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