I was listening to George Wallace on the radio today and his speech of 1963 in which he said "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever" or some such. It made me think of 1967 when my wife and I first came to America. I went to work in a workshop at Koppers company as a machinist. I guess I had heard of the segregation thing, but it was not anything that I was familiar with really. I was 26 years old, we had black people in England of course but I had not really noticed them! Believe it or not I don't think I really noticed that they were a different color (Colour in England!) I guess I must have but I definitely don't remember it being anything that I took any notice of. They were just people like everyone else.
So when I started work at Koppers and one of the guys in the workshop was black i just talked to him the same as all the other guys.
It was a while before I realized that I was, "Doing something wrong", the other guys in the shop who were all white were sort of ignoring me.
I guess it sank in after a while. I used to eat lunch with John - the black guy - and we got on quite well I remember. I think we were talking about a trip to the beach once and it occurred to me to ask him about sunbathing! There didn't seem to be much point in it for him! And it was strange that I would want to go darker - by now I had realized that the others in the shop didn't like black people! Anyway he told me that if he lay in the sun he would go darker, and yes he would burn if he stayed out in it too long.
One day when I was talking to one of the white men I mentioned that I had heard that when a black man met a white man on a sidewalk the black man used to have to step off the kerb. I said it sort of like it was funny or a joke and was surprised when he replied visciously "Yes, and that is the way that it should still be."
John left soon after, I think it may have been difficult for him. I think I may have been the only person who talked to him.
Things are undoubtably different now. But those thoughts came to me about my first real interaction with a black man and the treatment that he received and the way that the white men treated him.
Back in 1967.