Sunday, March 30, 2014

This post will require some experimenting ...

You'll need to go into the little white search bar (left side, above the banner and my photo) and enter the words, Minstrel Show.  That will bring up a post of January 1, 2004 that shows a picture of my son, Rick, in his early years.

To show that this history is still being lived and that revelations still crop up from time to time, this is noteworthy.

Only last week -- after my talk in the theater -- a young University of California graduate student lingered behind as the audience was leaving.  She asked if she could have a few minutes with me during which she mentioned that she was working on the dissertation for her doctorate -- the subject of which is Minstrel Shows of the Fifties.  That was enough to cause me to invite her into our staff break room for a brief conversation.

It was then that I learned, for the first time, that my experience was but one instance in what had been a program being distributed at the time by a national company that specialized in producing kits (costumes, scripts, instruction manuals) to schools all over the country for Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) to use as fundraisers. 

She told me that in her research she'd found a number of letters from African American parents who were deeply offended and were attempting to get the NAACP to provide some defense against a practice that was fanning the flames of racism, and doing grave harm to their children.

After having run across this 5 year-old account on my blog during her research, she told me that mine was the only example she'd found of someone facing -- head on -- this horribly destructive program.

Until that very moment I'd assumed that the nightmare was a purely local phenomenon -- my hostile neighbors  expressing their abject ignorance.

Would I have faced into that storm had I known that this was a Goliath, a local version of an evil national industry so much larger than could be seen at the time?  Was I protected by my innocence so that it wasn't the courageous act she may have believed it to have been?  I truly don't know ... . 

She's agreed to bring a copy of her dissertation when completed.  It should shed light on a shameful though fascinating period in our history -- in this seemingly never-ending struggle toward full equality.

... and why the tears?  It was so long ago, and surely I've now grown far beyond their reach ... .

Then so has Rick, though it's only because he died far too young in a thinly-veiled suicide after a self-destructive life probably contributed to by those early years of sadness and rejection, as have so many of our children.