Apropos of my item on the Martin Luther King holiday, my friend Richard Dalton submitted this memoir:
I grew up in Los Angeles, in Baldwin Hills, a development in the hills southwest of downtown LA. It was a very comfortable, middle class place to live. And it was All White. Blacks and Asians lived closer to town in neighborhoods that were typically well cared for. Walter Mosley's wonderful series of Easy Rawlins books captures that era and its character beautifully from an African-American viewpoint.
I went to Susan Miller Dorsey high, a school that fused the hill- dwelling whites and the flatland blacks in a remarkable way. I'm attending the 50th reunion (boy does that make me cringe) of my graduating class in a couple of weeks. I resisted sending in a 50 year recap of what's happened to me since I think those are boring--at best. But then I remembered how uniques that school was, particularly during the racial strife of the late 50s and early 60s. So I sent the organizing committee this.
I've been thinking off and on lately about my Dorsey experience. I was not a great student, in fact, if it weren't for the Dorseygram, I probably would have wasted much of my three years. With one very big exception.
Dorsey was important to me (and still is) because it was such a rich mixture of races and cultures. We all inhabited that space and I recall very little tension or discomfort and I don't think that's just the rosy glow of recollection, I think that's how we were. That experience has allowed me to live a life in which I can appreciate human differences, not feel threatened by them.
It's worth remembering that African-American kids were at the same time wading through angry, violent crowds of white citizens so they could attend schools that were being desegregated in Alabama by court order. I've seen film from those days showing the indignity and terror they had to go through and wondered how different my life would have been if I grew up in that kind of closed-minded society.
Not surprisingly, time and family finances changed that happy way of life. Black families, finding better jobs and incomes, were beginning to move toward and then into Baldwin Hills. Realtors, sensing a commission Nirvana, began employing really slimy "block-busting" techniques. They world call residents and say, "Do you realize that a negro (sic) family moved in just three blocks away? Do you know what's going to happen when three families move into the same house and they start parking cars up on blocks right on the front lawn?"
Those sound like grotesque parodies now. But they aren't. I know, because my parents repeated the same stories to me to justify their panic sale and move out of the suddenly sullied neighborhood.
I've been back a number of times to 5022 Marburn Avenue, where I grew up and yes, the neighborhood is almost all black. And my old house and yard are in better condition than we ever kept them….
At one point, the State Department brought President Sukharno of Indonesia to Dorsey, to speak to the student body. The vice principal told us later that we had been selected as an example of racial integration in America.
By the way, I've always thought that the reference to Baldwin Hills as "the black Beverly Hills" was insulting to both blacks and whites. When I visited the neighborhood a couple of years ago, there was some evidence of whites reintegrating the area. They should--it remains a very desirable place to live.