Living in Two Worlds…Part 2
The Utopian Time

The happiest days of my childhood were spent in Merchantville and Pennsauken, NJ, which was not far from Philadelphia where my father worked after WWII, and it wasn’t much more than an hour to the Jersey Shore. Add another couple of hours drive, I would be down on my cousins’ farm.

Life then was for me a childhood utopia. I did quite well in elementary school. The teachers know that I wanted to learn and could also be responsible if given a task by them. For example, I took Emily Flowers down the fire escape fifteen minutes before the end of the school each day while in fifth grade. Emily had had polio but was able to get around on crutches and braces. I took her down the fire escape to her mother who was waiting for her.

During preparations for Christmas, Bud Oakford, a cousin of mine, had a candy store called Aunt Charlotte’s. I worked for him during the run-up to Christmas, which was when I was in fifth grade. My tour de force was coating pretzels with chocolate.

Bud is showing me the old coating machine that I used.

This next memory was of my father taking me to the Merchantville police station. Over the past seven decades, I have been uncertain why my father thought that visiting the local police station was necessary. While I vividly recall going to the police station, I don’t recall what he said to me prior to going, while we were there, or afterwards. I’m sure my father would have surely spelled out all aspects of the trip. He did things by the book and did them extremely well.

During WWII, he was drafted and went to Officer’s Candidate School (OCS). Once he got his commission as a lieutenant, he was shipped off to the South Pacific and returned as a major. He was driven to do things correctly and in order.

As I mentioned, I don’t recall the reason for the visit to the police station. I assumed that he thought that my seeing a jail would make me follow all the rules and laws. Apparently, I got that message. I followed them and never again visited another jail until fourteen years ago when I visited Robben Island. The island reminded me of Alcatraz. It is a two square mile island a little more than four miles off the southwestern coast of South Africa. During the time of apartheid, the white government held Nelson Mandela for eighteen of his twenty-seven years in the prison on Robben Island.

Mandela spent more than a quarter century in jail, because he wanted black South Africans to have racial equality with the white government.

As I recall my first of my two jail visits, Mandala’s cell looked similar to that of Merchantville’s jail, even to the color of paint on the cell door. When my father took me to the police station in Merchantville, the police officer showed me his gun, handcuffs, and night stick. Since no one was in the jail for some violation, the officer allowed me inside one of the cells. I can’t honestly remember how old I was. I might have been seven or eight years old at the time. While my memory has faded over seven decades, I do recall walking inside the jail cell. That was etched into my mind. I didn’t want to be locked up.

My childhood in Merchantville and Pennsauken, NJ was a happy time. As I reflect upon the yellow glow of those days gone by, I remember a quieter and more pleasant time. Surely, there were problems in the world, but my world was happy. Nevertheless, as I look at my world today, I am living to two worlds. The other world isn’t the utopian dreamworld that I enjoyed while attending Collins Tract Elementary School.

The other world for black males is anything but utopian. Police, in that world aren’t like what I experienced decades ago. Today, many blacks guys often visit jails and are locked up if they aren’t shot and killed even before they are arrested. Amid all the concerns about COVID-19, we are dealing with another killer…cops killing black men.

Obviously, there is a disconnect for me as I look back upon my childhood. I was lucky. I am white and lived in a nice middleclass part of South Jersey. It was and still is utopian place for others…who look like me. I realize now that being black back then wasn’t much different than it is today. And to be even more to the point, it has been that way since 1619 when slaves were first brought to the Jamestown British colony.

The first slaves in Jamestown

I was involved in the civil rights movement in the 60s. Back then, there was the hope that a better time would arrive. It would not come overnight. However, most of the people with whom I worked believed that it would change for the better relatively soon. Sixty years later, we still have white cops beating or killing blacks. We still have white vigilante groups still beating and killing blacks also. We are arguing with white racists about systematic racism, which they deny.

Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’ was what we all believed. However, lots of blacks have been killed physically and/or emotionally over the last half century.

The New Yorker for June 22, 2020

Is there a black father who would have taken his child to the local police station for a visit like my father did? And how many times, in just my lifetime, have racist cops beaten or killed black males?

One final point, what would happen if a black cop killed a white guy with his knee on the white man’s neck for eight minutes and forty-six minutes? Would whites think, feel, and do?