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Thursday, 25 September 2008

A Personal Look at Color

By Sylvia Kirkwood of The View From Over the Hill

Sylviakirkwoodbadge Even growing up in Texas I never saw skin color, not as a child or a teenager in the ‘50s. I was aware that blacks lived in their own section of town, they couldn’t eat in restaurants around town and they certainly didn’t go to school with me and my friends. But my family owned a restaurant and while blacks couldn’t eat there, they could work there and serve other blacks on a porch off the kitchen.

However, when we had parties at Christmas for the employees, it was for all of the employees.
We locked the front door of the restaurant and the cooks and dishwashers (they were people, not machines in those days), came out front and we all sat together and ate goodies, exchanged gifts and laughed together.

I had gone to college for two years, couldn’t decide what I wanted to do with my life, so I left college and went to work. One of those jobs was for a photographer. His assistant was a black man who had a master’s degree in literature, but his job as a white business owner’s assistant was still a step up in those days.

We became very good friends and caused a lot of head turning when we walked down the street together, laughing and talking on our way to the bus stop – it probably was a good thing we took different buses because we couldn’t sit together. I never understood prejudice – not then and certainly not now.

In the early ‘60s I had decided that I wanted to teach school and returned to college. I worked part time for the first six months and shared a house with a good friend of mine. She was from Germany and was a fencer and one weekend she invited me to a fencing tournament that was being held in Dallas. It was there that I met my future husband.

He was a member of the Modern Pentathlon Team. It was an Olympic sport primarily designed for those in the military, he was stationed in San Antonio, the team had come to Dallas for the competition. And he was black.

At the time, he was dating my housemate from Germany who was white, so when I say they dated that meant that he came to our house for an evening. They couldn’t go anywhere together, so they’d either have dinner at home or they would go to a drive-in and hope no one called the police.

After the competition was over and he returned to San Antonio, they would talk on the phone and he would occasionally drive up to Dallas for a weekend. It didn’t take long for this to get really old for both of them and they finally stopped seeing each other.

But he and I continued to talk and to correspond after I returned to college full time and eventually we began to travel back and forth between my university town of Denton and San Antonio. We could go places on the base at Fort Sam Houston.

I graduated from the university two years later and accepted a teaching job in San Antonio at a Catholic girl’s school. We were still limited to dining or going to movies on the base or eating at my apartment or to parties given by local friends, and that kept us busy. We occasionally thumbed our noses at society in general by eating at drive-in or going to a drive-in movie. We still turned lots of heads although it was mainly because people weren’t totally sure just what he was – he had almost as mixed a heritage as I did and wasn’t your “ordinary black man,” whatever that means.

He went to the Olympics the next year and when he returned a silver medalist, I had a celebration at my apartment and invited all my students. Oh, my, what a fan club they were! I nearly choked with laughter when I overheard two of them giggling about how handsome he was and “didn’t he have the greatest tan”! It just never occurred to them that he could be black.

We married soon after that. My parents loved him in spite of a few relatives that refused to have me in their homes anymore. They came to California for our wedding – we couldn’t get married in Texas because it was still against the law at the time. But I walked down the aisle on my father’s arm in a beautiful wedding gown with my head held high and one big smile on my face.

Over the next five years we had four children who got progressively lighter skinned – to the point that to this day no one knows what their heritage is although they’ve never made any attempt to hide their background and they are, and always have been, outrageously proud of their father, as they should be.

We were married for over twenty years, we eventually did get a divorce, but it had nothing to do with race or color – that was easy to deal with. The old hurts and pain from earlier times, with parents and situations neither of us had any control over had left both of us damaged emotionally. But we have remained good friends and have stayed in touch over the years. The children feel very comfortable with both of us and we do all get together now and then.

I have no regrets nor do I think he has. He was a wonderful father and friend. It’s not about color, it’s about being a human being – we don’t all have the same color of eyes or hair so what’s the big thing about the color of one’s skin? I didn’t understand it when I was a child and I don’t understand it today.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Sylvia, your story is so beautiful. It's wonderful to read of a person who overcame that awful scourge of prejudice; especially a Southerner.

I, too, was raised to believe that people should only be judged by their actions and not by any other standard. It was a shock when I went to Florida and discovered that black people had to walk in the gutter when they met a white person on the sidewalk. It was, and is, shameful.

Sadly, although things are better now, racism is still among us and Obama may lose because of that.

We are all "Brothers Under the Skin". A lovely story.

This is indeed a beautiful story. Despite progress in dealing with racial issues, however, I fear that there are still enough bigots out there that Obama is likely to be defeated.

This was a wonderful story. I live in the Northeast age 62 and I confess I don't remember the prejudice. Values and kindness start from the inside. Your smile, sparkle in your eyes and actions determine who you are not your color.

Thank you for telling us what it was like and I thank God it's not that way any longer.

Dorothy from grammology

Seems there are more big people with big hearts than bigots. God bless America.

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