When I watched the tall, handsome African American man speaking to a massive crowd at the Boston Cathedral in their time of trouble, I was proud because I remember a different Boston in the 1970’s. The tall, handsome man with his tall, beautiful wife, named Michelle, was there to console the Bostonians who had been bombed at the end of one of their traditions, the Boston Marathon. The tall, handsome man was the President of the United States – Barack Obama. He had been introduced to the crowd by the Governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, another African American who has served as Governor since 2007.
The Boston I remembered goes back to 1974 when a ruling by Federal Judge, Arthur Garrity, ordered the integration of Boston School district busing. The order led to open expressions of hatred and violence towards Blacks and race rioting reminiscent of the rioting across America in their resistance to granting African Americans equality.
America had long since adopted Thomas Jefferson’s proclamation that all men were created equal but they could not bring themselves to include African Americans as true equals. Substitute theories like separate but equal was okay, but not the kind of equality where you sit down beside each other in restaurants, schools, employment, and the halls of justice. Not even the kind of equality where you call each other by their given names with titles like Mr. and Mrs., where appropriate.
Recently I got two phone calls that reminded me how time can make a difference. I got a call from a man who I knew only by name and the fact that he had been the first African American Professor hired to teach at Pepperdine University in 1969, the year I graduated. I had never met him. He was hired after protests by the Black Students Union, of which I was one of the founders, in 1967. The call I got was from Calvin Bowers who was that first professor. He was now retiring from a career at Pepperdine. Bowers stopped short of saying thanks for what we did as outspoken students to open doors that let him in, but he made it clear that he appreciated what had been done.
The second phone call came less than one month ago. This time, it came from a white man who began by saying his name and that he was calling to apologize for something he said to me 44 years ago. I laughed, thinking it was a prank, and asked how he even knew me 44 years ago? He said that 44 years ago we were both students at Pepperdine. At that point I perked up. He went on to say that 44 years ago he had criticized something I said as President of the Black Students Union (BSU) . . . something to the effect of him belonging to the SPONGE organization. He said that SPONGE was a pseudonym for Society for the Prevention Of N—–s Getting Everything. I guess the everything included integrated schools through busing. He went on to say that he had become a medical doctor after graduating from Pepperdine and ended up working in Mexico and around the world as a doctor. He had discovered the infamous Tuskegee experiment where the Syphilis virus was intentionally introduced into black men to see if it affected Blacks differently than it did Whites. He had come to understand why I had become so upset with his so–called SPONGE joke. He had wanted to apologize ever since. He said he found me on the internet and was calling to apologize. I accepted.
I would also like to see the white people of Boston apologize to black Bostonians. We certainly need an apology to the terrorists who killed Emmitt Till, the four little girls at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, and the planters of Strange Fruit (hangings) of the south. This year, America apologized to number 42, Jackie Robinson. Possibly they could apologize to Jack Johnson for sending him to prison for consorting with a white woman. There is plenty of apologizing that needs to be done.
Without expressed apologies, America elected a black president and black mayors. That says if we keep moving forward, who knows what a difference a day can make . . . another city, another black president can bring another type of apology.