School Days

“I was the only Caucasian in the whole class.”

Edited by Nick Ladeau.

Transcript for School Days

I went to Froebel School, kindergarten, in about 1948. My kindergarten class was basically all white. I had Mrs. Reising for a kindergarten teacher. And I remember that everybody had to have a rug. And at ten o’clock in the morning, everybody rolled out their rug and went and took a nap. That’s the way Mrs. Reising worked.

My first-grade year, now that was different. I went to school, the first day, and I was in school with… in my class, I was the only Caucasian in the whole class. And my dad asked about it, and I said, “Well, you know, everybody else is black.” And he said, “Well, I’m gonna go talk to the principal,” because he talked to the neighbors’ kids upstairs, and they were in white classes. And so my dad went and talked to Dr. Gilbert, who was the principal, and he dragged me with him. And he says, “I want my kid to be in with the neighbors’ kids.” And Gilbert said something to the effect, “No, that’s not the way it’s going to work. He’s going to stay in the class that he’s assigned to.” And my dad, in his broken English said, “I’m going to take my kid out of school.” And so they started arguing, and I remember Gilbert telling him, “If you take that child out of school, I’m going to have the truant officer visit your house.” And my dad says, “You can do whatever the hell you want. I’m going to take…,” he told me in Spanish, “Go back home.” And of course, if dad says something, that’s it. So I did, I went home. And so he asked the Lucas’s where their kids were going to school, and they said over at St. Emmerich’s two blocks away. So he took me over to St. Emmerich’s and registered me, so I got first grade through eighth grade all at St Emmerich’s with the nuns. Next day, the truant officer knocked on the door. My dad says, “Get the hell out of here because my kids in school already.” And that was it, you know, so that was about 1949.

I don’t think he did it on a racial context. I think he said, “Well, you know, if the Zemelkos and Lucases and the Zannonis are all in white classes, why can’t my kid be there since all of us live in the same building?” That was basically his philosophy.

Now, I will tell you that my dad was extremely strict. And if whatever the teacher said about you deserved a punishment, if he got a complaint about my behavior or what I did in school, you know, you got punished. You know, sometimes it would be his leather belt. Sometimes it would be, “You’re gonna kneel in a corner,” but you know, he was the law.

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