I arrived in the Washington DC area fifty-five years ago today. My husband just returned from SE Asia, had been assigned to Quantico VA.
This day, we were driving from Maryland to visit my husband’s cousins. As we passed through DC, we found ourselves caught in a sea of donkeys looking up at the Capitol building. The Democrats had won, and JFK was the new president. Although I had helped my mother campaign for JFK, I was really naive when it came to presidential politics. Heck, I wasn’t even old enough to vote.
Later came all the turmoil of the 1960s which thoroughly confused me. For one thing, I did not understand why Black people were so upset. I had grown up in the South, and thought they were happy people always signing:
“Camp town ladies sing this song, doo dah,
Camp town race track five miles long, oh the too dah day?”
My ignorance had much to do with the way my family lived. In those days, we mostly hang out with the other Catholic families, and saw little of Black families until my Dad had a quarrel with the local White priest and he left that parish to join the Black Catholic Church.
One of Dad’s good friends was a Catholic Lebanese immigrant who ran a small corner store in the Black neighborhood. The shopkeeper didn’t have a lot, but he managed to make enough money that he and his family lived near us in the middle class part of town.
I recall visiting the store with Dad and noting how downtrodden and poor the people living around it were. I also noticed the rutted roads capable of breaking a car axle. At the time, I wondered what was the matter with these people? How can they live like this? I knew nothing about Jim Crow in those days.
For a while, I hang out with Donnie, one of the store owner’s kids who was near my age. One day when I was walking with him, some boys across the street began yelling names. They had called me names before, so I thought the comments were directed at me (I was Catholic). But he said, no they were yelling at him because he was “Arab.”
Being poorly educated about race and ethnicity in Southern public schools, I did not understand what ‘Arab.’ meant.
All this was many years ago and today, I am much wiser and better informed, and wondering just how much progress we have made.
I know that “Make America Great again” is lie. America has always been a work in progress and we, the people, have overcome many flaws. I know the “good old days” weren’t so good for many. I know Americans need to do more with regard to “Justice for All.”
I also know that “America First” is a slogan from an American organization filled with Nazi infiltrators during WWII.