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Monday, March 24, 2014

A small step for racial equality

I attended a high school of more than 2000 students in three grades (10-11-12). When I entered as a sophomore in September 1969, the faculties of public high schools in Montgomery, Ala. had just integrated. Integration of students took one more year. By my senior year, things were settling down -- in part because the school's football team had won the state championship with an integrated team in 1970 after winning it with a white team the year before.

During my senior year I edited the Stars and Bars, the student newspaper. A strange name for a newspaper? Well, integration went only so far; the school was still named for Robert E. Lee. The newspaper ran a monthly column, College of the Month, for those planning to enter university. The obvious choices for the column were Alabama, Auburn, Troy State, Huntingdon, etc. My predecessors had written about those schools every year. But I thought it was time to make a statement. Early in the school year, I chose to feature Tuskegee Institute as College of the Month.

As usual I met privately with the Principal at Lee, Clinton Carter, to obtain his approval of the galley proofs for the forthcoming issue. I didn't tell him about my choice of Tuskegee; I simply put the proofs on his desk and waited. As he turned the pages, he stopped, looked at me, looked again at the proofs, smiled, and kept going. No word was spoken. The issue went to press as-is. It did cause a bit of a stir at the school. The more comments I got about it, the better I felt.

Then this came in the mail:

Sweet! Dr. Foster also knew, quietly, that this was a big deal. My mother put this letter into a scrapbook. I found it last month while going through boxes of stuff from my parents' house in Montgomery. I'm so glad she saved it. The message here is that to become an advocate of something -- in this case, of racial equality -- all it takes is a small step.