BlackParentSpeaks never chose to attend a ‘White’ high school in Portland, Oregon — let alone one that had a reputation of being racist, snobbish, and privy. But, in spite of my protests, my Black parents decided that I would attend Grant High School and that decision was final. 1960s Grant High School was not a welcoming place for Black students.
Grant High School was located in a ‘White’ community 30 plus blocks from where my family lived. White adults who lived in and around Grant did some ugly things to try to dissuade me and other Blacks from walking thru what they ‘claimed’ as their neighborhood as we walked the distance from our homes to and from Grant. Some of the Whites trained their dogs to attack us, some Whites hollered racist things, and some young White children threw rocks and more in our direction as we neared and/or passed their White homes. Navigating the Grant neighborhood often meant crisscrossing and jaywalking in order to avoid particular White homes that I knew were more problematic and/or dangerous than some of the other White homes.
The educational staff at Grant reflected the Grant community — overwhelmingly ‘White’ and racist. Even when a fellow ‘Black’ student at Grant ‘gave up the ghost’, the Grant staff showed no compassion or concern as I broke into tears upon learning of his death that school day. Instead, I was told by White Grant staff to ‘stop crying’ and straighten up, etc. The coldness us Black students were shown was truly a harsh lesson for me to bear on that particular school day….
Because I have lived in the belly of the beast, I have an up-front and intimate view of ‘White’ folk. Example: White females are often covertly more racist in their actions and ways.
Being ‘Black’ and walking the halls of Grant High School allowed me to hear the racists words coming from the mouths of Grant’s ‘White’ students, teachers, administrative staff, etc. I remember a school day assembly where a White student called herself entertaining — she ‘entertained’ in ‘Black face’.
Many many many racial and racist incidents happened during my four years as a student at Portland’s Grant High School. I remember the ‘F’ I was given in Gym because of the racist and inhumane policy my ‘White’ gym teacher mistakenly assumed I would consent to follow. Following what happened, the ‘White’ female gym teacher was provided with a bodyguard and I was rewarded with an ‘F’ grade….
Although I never wanted to attend Portland’s Grant High School, I have concluded that it was quite educational for me. Going to Grant High School truly helped to better open my eyes to ‘Whiteness’ and racism and discrimination.
“Soldier Boy, Oh my little Soldier Boy…” I often sang the lyrics to that song in Art Class at Grant. My teacher was White and, of course, the other students in my Art Class reflected Grant’s community. Soon, one of the other students — an older male student — joined in and we, in unison, sang the lyrics to “Soldier Boy” together on an unplanned basis while in our Art Class.
Within days, I was called aside by my Art Teacher and told that I could no longer sang “Soldier Boy” while in Art Class. The Art Teacher explained that my singing as a duet with “David” would no longer be allowed because the White females in the class liked David and they were angered that a ‘Black female and a White male’ were permitted to sing together in class. My teacher expressed that the White females were ‘jealous’ and that they ‘wanted’ David for themselves.
I told my teacher, Mr. Read, that David and I did not have anything going on and that there was no reason for the White females to be jealous of me. Mr. Read responded that he could not allow David and me together to continue singing in his Art Class because he had to satisfy the ‘racist’ desires of the White female students and their parents. Mr. Read went on to express that David would still be allowed to continue singing in class because “David is White….”
To make a long story short, I responded telling my Art Teacher that I too would continue to sing in class. And, if he — Mr. Read — wanted me to stop singing, he would have to stop David from singing as well.
My defiance led to me being banned from Art Class. I was told by teacher Read and Grant administrative staff that I would be given an ‘F’ in Art and that I was forbidden to go to class for however long I refused to follow the ‘racist’ policy at Grant. Thus, Art Class for me meant reporting to the Grant office where I would sit and think and do whatever I chose to do.
The day finally came when I looked up from my seat in the Grant office and saw the face of Grant High School Art Teacher Mr. Read. Mr. Read asked me if I was finally willing to ‘give in’ and to stop singing with David. I told Mr. Read that I would never ‘give in’…. Shortly after that, Mr. Read ‘gave in’. Mr. Read spoke about racism and apologized to me for what he had demanded of me and what he had done to me. He expressed that ‘guilt’ was eating away at him….
I accepted Art Teacher Read’s apology, resumed my studies in Art Class, and continued singing along with David to the displeasure of White female students and their parents.
The above is merely a glimpse into c.1960s ‘Black life’ in Portland, Oregon. Can you dig it?
‘Don’t forget our reparations’.
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We are all works in progress.
Undying love for Black people!