African Americans, fighting to save the world from Hitler in World War II, returned home to find that they still would not be served in restaurants while German prisoners of war were accorded that privilege. Jackie Robinson, an army officer, was arrested, court martialed (but acquitted) because he would not go to the back of the bus. Integrating baseball, he was booed, thrown at, spiked, received threats, and could not stay in the hotel with his teammates. For generations, our society has labored under the assumption that black athletes were not smart enough to play quarterback in football. In many southern states, a poll tax was assessed to prevent blacks from voting.
In the late 1950s, Lawrence Davis, a doctoral candidate at the University of Arkansas, spoke at a meeting of our Phi Delta Kappa chapter, an honorary educational fraternity. He was president of Arkansas A&M College, now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, the state's historic college for Negroes. He talked about some of the problems of being black, this being before the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
Davis told us he knew of two places he could go to the bathroom between Fayetteville and Pine Bluff. "When I get in the car, I say 'Now Lawrence, you have 250 miles to go.' " One of the hardest things was explaining to his young daughter that she couldn't play in the pretty new swings in the park for the white youngsters, but had to play on the hand-me-down equipment for black children. While he didn't mention this in his remarks, he told his major adviser about the abuse he endured when he appeared before committee hearings of the General Assembly regarding the appropriations for college. Dr. Allen suggested that he have a board member who was white accompany him to the hearings.
A decade later as director of a program in Monticello, Ark., to establish a model integrated high school, I invited Dr. Davis to give the keynote address. A model school required quality teachers. The problem was that African Americans could not find a place for their family to live, apart from renting a room. A friend from the area told me about a practice once common in the business community. When they sold something to a black person on credit, they would immediately garnish his wages.
When I completed my doctorate, I was offered a job as associate professor at Mississippi Southern University in Hattiesburg. I just couldn't bring myself to move four young children to the deep South in the mid-1960s. Instead, I accepted the Monticello job. I was selling light bulbs for the Lions Club when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. I could stay abreast on developments on television as I moved door to door.
Black History Month provides an opportunity to take note of advances made in the areas of civil rights over the past half century. Progress came at a terrible price. Congressman John Lewis of Georgia was among those civil rights leaders who not only experienced verbal abuse, incarceration, but blows to the head and body in the struggle. Many of the legal obstacles to integration have been overcome. An African American has been elected and re-elected as president. In Neosho, the Barker family chronicles some of the progress that has been made. Following integration of the local school district in the 1950s, Andrew was elected senior class president. Phil, his youngest son, was elected student body president in the 1970s and three decades later, Danny, his oldest son, was in the first class to be recognized as a distinguished alumni by the R-5 School Foundation.
Page 2 of 2 - Dr. King's dream has not been fully realized. The greatest obstacle to full equality for African Americans is in the hearts and minds of the American people.
Roy Shaver writes a weekly column for the Daily News.