I have posted some of my remembrances of life in the deep South during the 1950’s when the problems regarding integration of the races began making national headlines. The close personal relationships I had with Brother Mose and Sister Bobbie who worked for our family during those years, perhaps caused me to be blinded to the intolerable status of blacks throughout the country, but especially in the South. Prior to my teenage years, I somehow thought it was the choice of blacks to be segregated and gave no thoughts to the fact that Pops, who was a general practitioner had a separate patient waiting room marked Colored Waiting Room. There was never an incident in his office in which a black person demanded to be seated in the White Waiting Room. That could have been because Pops was a beloved family doctor to all of his patients, and no one wanted to damage their relationship with him. He did not discriminate in the quality of medical care he gave all of his patients. I rode with him on many night calls into the segregated black areas of town, which at times could be dangerous. His car was recognized and was never damaged or vandalized, and he was never threatened throughout his career.
Throughout my three years of pre-med study at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, I never had a black person in class with me. On entering the freshman class in 1957, some of my class mates were called to active duty with the National Guard and had to go to Little Rock to protect the 9 black students that entered Central High School. That significant event marked the beginning of integration of all of the public schools in Arkansas. By the time I entered medical school in 1960, there had been such a change in admission policies that four black students were enrolled in the freshman class with me.
There was no animosity or racial incidents during my tenure in medical school to my knowledge. We were all so vested in our education and so busy studying to avoid failure, we had no time for such foolish things. The only thing I witnessed that could have caused a furor happened one morning as about 15 of us freshmen prepared to get into an elevator to attend our Gross Anatomy class. One of our black classmates named Nate who was very outgoing and well liked by most; entered the elevator first and took his place at the back. As the elevator filled, the last person to enter was a Jewish student named Harvey from New York. As the doors closed and the volume of the conversations lowered, Harvey said, “Good morning, Nigger.” It got deathly quiet for a few anxious moments until Nate cheerfully returned the greeting, “Good morning Jew boy!” Everyone laughed loudly, the doors opened as we reached our floor, and we went on to class. Nothing more was said or done.
During those med. school years, the Freedom Riders were regularly going into cities like Memphis, Birmingham and Tuscaloosa. These riders were civil rights activists riding interstate buses to protest the segregation in those interstate buses, and some were met with violent opposition. There were no violent demonstrations in Little Rock that I remember. A committee of segregationists in Little Rock called the Capital Citizens Council arranged a free bus ride for any black person who wanted to leave Little Rock. The trip was a one way ticket to Hyannis, Massachusetts, the summer home of the John F. Kennedy family. The committee referred to the travellers as Reverse Freedom Riders, and over a one year period paid for transportation for about 200 people.
A favorite restaurant of many in Little Rock at that time and a particular favorite of mine was Fisher’s Bar-B-Que, a black-owned restaurant located not far from the Capital. There were 4 of us that would eat there as often as we could afford a meal out, which was usually once a month on a Sunday evening. As we entered the restaurant we were recognized and greeted as regulars. The restaurant was brightly decorated with clean tables covered with red checkered cloths. A sign in the front said Back Room Only For White Patrons. It was an unusual form of discrimination for us to have to walk through the nice part of a restaurant to a far back room which was small with 3 or 4 benches having no decorations or table coverings. We loved it though; we loved the people who owned the restaurant and we especially loved the bar-b-que! It however gave us a tiny example of one of the many indignities that racial segregation brings.
My internship year in 1964-65 was spent in Atlanta at Grady Memorial Hospital, the large downtown city hospital. Not far from the hospital was Ebenezer Baptist Church which was the church pastored by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I was always fearful that Dr. King would be brought to our emergency room having been severely beaten or wounded because of the hatred many white people had toward him. My room-mate that year was from Montgomery, Alabama, and he intensely disliked Dr. King and all the leaders of the civil rights movement. He couldn’t stand to hear the song “We Shall Overcome,” the theme song of the civil rights movement, and whenever the occasion was right, a few of us would sing a few bars for him. Fortunately Dr. King was never attacked in Atlanta, and I don’t remember treating any injuries to civil rights demonstrators during that year.
In remembering those days of radical change in our country, many people paid dearly for the rights and freedoms enjoyed by all today. The men and women, who in those days I considered trouble-makers were in fact real heroes and patriots, and I am very thankful for their bravery. I have personal regrets and sorrow for being so blinded and insensitive toward my American brothers and sisters. Any harmful prejudice is wrong and racial prejudice is sin. I particularly love one point in Dr. King’s speech entitled, “I Have A Dream,” delivered at the March On Washington in 1963. He said, “I have a dream that one day my four little children will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Dear Lord, may it be so!