During my visit with the middle schoolers yesterday, John Griffin appeared to be a model of the success of school desegregation: black kids sitting beside white kids, with some other ethnicities in evidence as well, with as much harmony in evidence as one might expect from such a group of budding adolescents.
Once I had told a few of my tales about The Bad Old Days, about how black people were excluded from voting, and the Ku Klux Klan wreaked domestic terror for enforcement, and Dr. King along with many unknown heroes helped tear down the barriers of segregation (etc., etc., but not rambling too long), I took some questions.
And after several, a black boy raised his hand, his expression puzzled as he did so. Could I, he asked, explain what this “segregation” stuff was all about? What was it that people were and weren’t supposed to do?
I think there was the faintest echo of a snicker or two from other corners of the classroom. But I nodded soberly, and did my best to sketch it out in a couple of minutes. Looking back, it would have been better to ask some of the kids what they knew, or had heard about it. (But then, I’m not a middle school teacher; that’s above my pay grade.)
But I’m wondering, and would welcome your thoughts: does that lad’s question amount to a good thing, or not?? Is it a sign of progress that he didn’t know the meaning of the word? Or should he have been clued in by now, at home or school or church, about this long and shadowed history?