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Sunday, September 19, 2004

I must admit that lately

(since starting my last position), I've been aware of how constricted I was feeling. So much of what I've been feeling might have bled into my work day -- much was rising that I've been holding back for fear of crossing some invisible line that I've set for myself. The result is that I'm more and more aware of the anger building. I've a new appreciation for the times that I've used my computer as a way to vent, and to work through the accumulating discomfort caused by the necessary re-visiting of a painful past.

This morning I watched the author of "We Also Serve," on CSpan's Booknotes. She has written a new book about African American participation in all of the nation's wars since 1776. She spoke in her introduction about how little she'd listened to her own late father's war stories, and of how much she regrets it now. Found myself nodding with understanding at her revelations gathered from the stories of old warriors of earlier wars; WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and the current occupation forces in the Middle East.

Though her book deals specifically with black veterans of the armed forces, my own experiences over the past weeks -- while being immersed in studies of the Home Front is really not much different.

She arrived at the same place that I have in some important ways. She stated during her interview that these people had fought valiantly, were passed over for advancement, were not considered full-fledged members of the fighting forces until the Korean war when integration finally was enacted and advancement was finally possible. Most worked in support service branches, and as valets and maids to officers, or served in segregated units with white commanding officers. There was a heartbreaking account of one soldier whose work consisted of burying the dead in the field. I could barely listen ... .

Those men and woman came home as broken and maimed as their white counterparts, but faced the evils of full-blown segregation upon their return, and few of the benefits enjoyed by others. So it was with the homefront workers. The firsts Medals of Honor were awarded to black heroes in 1990, several decades after WWII during which they were earned for valor.

I discovered only this week that one of the several historic sites that have been incorporated into the Rosie the Riveter/Home Front National Historical Park was the Maritime Child Development Center, a state of the art 24-hour child care center that had a staff of 30, a fulltime psychiatrist, medical staff, etc., in the first of its kind and credited to Henry J. Kaiser's dynamic leadership -- but was reserved for white children, only. And this was not in some southern state, but here in California in what has become the most progressive area of the country.

The author of "We also served" arrived at the same conclusion that has consumed me over the past weeks. I, too, believe that the African Americans still struggling for survival against all odds in this city are owed a tremendous debt. This was the heroic generation that gave all, were hated and despised, were discouraged from putting down roots in this land of promise. We were just two generations out of slavery. I know, because I am one of them.

I was spared the degradation of having lived in the South, so had a head start on progress. I cannot imagine what it was like for those who were faced with abandonment at war's end, with no chance to have meaningful work or an education. Returning to the sharecroppers life was no longer an option, but facing a future in the hostility of Jim-Crow America must have been challenging beyond imagination.

I'm finding ways to address this need to tell the stories. This city will celebrate its centennial in 2005. WWII which came mid-century is the epochal event in its life. It will afford us the opportunity to re-visit some of that history and, perhaps, approach the celebration of that earlier time armed with the wisdom gained two decades later, during the Civil Rights Revolution of the Sixties.

Perhaps the most hopeful thing I'm discovering is that -- where there are still many mountains to climb in the overcoming of racism -- the numbers of people willing to climb them, together -- has grown exponentially over the years since WWII. And, there are now a significantly large number of us working hard to "get it right."

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