Editor: As an old foot soldier in the Civil Rights struggle, I have been delighted to see the out-pouring of African-Americans and young white Americans on the streets in largely peaceful protests across our great country. And, especially the local leadership of Chair Randall and others here in Loudoun County.
What has given me pause is the failure of our leaders and media to comment on the historic efforts over the past 70 plus years to reach this point. To recognize how far we need to go does not preclude praise for how far we have come.
When I was growing up in New Jersey in the 1940’s race was just accepted as “the way things are.” My parents and I had no black friends, no black families lived in our neighborhood, the few black students in high school never came to the prom. Then I went on a church weekend work trip to Philadelphia. I was painting a room in this crumbling old house when I asked the African-American lady why her baby’s crib was covered by wire mesh and she replied “to keep the rats from biting the baby.” That was one of my first life changing moments.
At my college in the early 1950’s there were not more than two or three dozen students of color out of 4,000. I was president of the Human Rights Society, a campus organization and we could not get more than 15 or 20 students to join. In the spring, I went south for the first time with the lacrosse team and saw the profusion of “Whites Only” signs along the highways.
When my future wife and I went to the Greensboro Court House in 1955 to get our marriage license there were separate “black” and “white” water fountains. To show our disapproval we decided in a futile gesture to each drink from the “black” fountain while folks just stared at us as if we were from Mars.
At the same time came the Supreme Court decision on Brown vs the Board of Education, Martin Luther King and other courageous black and white leaders emerged on a national scale. Heroic young people conducted sit ins. The famous march across the bridge. The attacks by the vicious dogs. Yes, excessive police brutality was a key factor even then. It all led to the massive Civil Rights legislative changes under Kennedy and Johnson in the 1960’s and our slow and painful progress ever since.
So, as we support these protests and join the call for “justice” let us note the many black mayors who speak to us on TV are there because of white votes as well as their own initiative over the years. Today, the vast majority of white people are comfortable living in neighborhoods with minority families, consulting with minority doctors and other professionals, having their children taught by minority teachers, and have minority friends.
I hope we can be more fine grained in our calling out “white racism” as the prime cause of black injustice. It is true “white racism” exists and must be opposed, but at the same time we need to recognize the huge progress in social change which a once majority white nation has accommodated to its credit since the days of my youth.
Alfred P. Van Huyck, Round Hill