Teens and Race Part 3: Big D

Dear Son,

Last week I told you a few things about my birthplace and where I lived until your current age, 14.  Just before my 9th grade I had a triple shock: I would be going to an all-boys school, had to wear a uniform and we were moving to Dallas, Texas.

After WW II my parents returned to my Dad’s hometown of Kansas City, Missouri but the job prospects were slim there. So, he took a job in the once-again boom-town of Tulsa. A quarter century later he got a lucrative job transfer to the new boom-town of Dallas-amazingly both moves were about 260 miles south.

The city was quickly expanding north and my school, Jesuit College Prep had decamped from an inner city area to the north edge of the city.  Because it was considered the most prestigious Catholic school in Dallas, the students often came from wide distances, 10-30 miles was common. Unlike my Tulsa schools there was some diversity but only a handful of blacks and only one Jew! However, there were two big ethnic groups, Italians and Hispanics.  The ethnic slurs for those groups were much more widely heard than “the n-word”.

We moved into town in August, 1963 and my brother and I slowly adapted to very different environments.  At school in Tulsa politics=JFK.  The nuns were so proud of our first Catholic president that they engaged in propaganda (a good old Medieval Catholic word) that would probably be banned today. In Dallas my teacher was a black seminarian who had us analyze Dylan songs and discussed civil rights. In fact the next year he and a couple other teachers got up and left, seemingly on very short notice, to march for civil rights in Mississippi and Alabama.

At the end of my third month in Dallas, my political instincts had been stoked to the point that I was very excited to hear that we would be released from school for JFK’s visit and that my Dad wanted us to see him at the airport.  Three years earlier we’d seen Nixon do a quick drive-through in Tulsa but this sounded more intimate and indeed it was.  The car-caravan was just beginning so we got a relatively good look.

On returning home I was listening to my beloved rock and roll on the radio when an announcer broke in to say, “The president has been shot!” Of course we all couldn’t conceive of the president actually being gone, so we immediately turned on the TV for updates.  Within a few minutes, though, the terrible truth emerged. I recall a huge controversy at the time, “Should the NFL cancel its games that were scheduled only two days after the assassination?”

To me, watching the news and sports that weekend, it seemed that the country was roughly evenly divided.  The NFL decided to play its games but I vividly recall that my new team, the Cowboys, played in Cleveland and there were big “Dallas Assassins” signs evident for parts of the game.  The media also jumped in and defined Dallas as “The City of Hate”. I believe that some strong political polarization existed there (both JFK and LBJ were lightning rods) but that racial attitudes were no worse than the Texas average, LBJ himself being a staunch segregationist until the 60’s. Attitudes in the Deep South were far more hostile as evidenced by the fact that blacks joined college sports teams earlier in Texas than in the Deep South.

Fast forward 53 years to July 7, 2016 and it is clear to me that Dallas is now one of the better US cities for race relations. The fact that people of all ethnicities were praying for the officers while they were being treated at Baylor Hospital (where my Mom was a nurse in the 60’s) and later engaged in a long and deeply-felt mourning period. Best of all of course were the words, tone and actions of Police Chief David Brown. Dallas citizens were so moved that police job applications are up 344% in the 18 days since the second most tragic day in city history.  In fact the whole nation was clearly moved and I can’t help but feel that if he’d been leading our nation the last few years that race relations would be far better.






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