In my first blog about my home town, one could think I was taking the position that I grew up in a “blue collar” paradise. Pleasant Valley was not a “blue collar” paradise by any means when I was growing up. It had its pluses and its minuses. The people who constituted Pleasant Valley’s population were struggling to respond and understand the multitude of social changes that were occurring in the United States in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, just as the people in many other towns and cities were struggling to understand and respond to them.
Pleasant Valley’s population, like other populations in other towns, was wrestling with the social issues of the day: The War in Vietnam, The Increase of Women in the Workplace, Racism, Drug Use By Teens, Rock’n Roll, the Sexual Revolution and the Counter Culture versus the more Traditional Culture. It was struggling with Hippies, The Black Panthers, The Weathermen, Black Muslims, the KKK, the Draft, the Draft Dodgers, The Peace Movement, The Unions, The Munich Olympics of 1972, Communism, The Cold War and human figures like Martin Luther King, Jr., George Wallace, Malcolm X, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Rafer Johnson, Dwight Eisenhower, Ho Chi Minh, Nikita Kruschev, Richard Nixon, Cassius Clay becoming Muhammad Ali , Tommy Smith and John Carlos, General William Westmoreland, the Kennedy’s, Jimmy Hoffa, the PLO, Charles Manson and the Manson Family, Hell’s Angels etc….
All of these groups and individuals had an affect on the National Consciousness. Pleasant Valley was simply a small piece of the National Consciousness, and the fundamental values of Pleasant Valley’s populace were being challenged the same as the fundamental values of many small towns and big cities were being challenged.
Pleasant Valley’s populace was trapped in a decades old thought process: The United States of America was great and a model of freedom and democracy for the world. The United States of America was the most powerful nation in the world and at the same time the most morally superior nation in the world.
Superman, the “Man of Steel” with his blue tights defining his perfectly constructed body and a big red letter “S” against a yellow background defining his pecs was still fighting for “Truth, Justice and the American Way,”although “Truth, Justice and the American Way” as a concept was rapidly changing since the defeat of Fascism in World War II, and the fight with Chinese and North Koreans in the Korean Conflict.
As an example of the changing concept of the United States as a nation and the propositions it represented consider the following: In 1960, as President Dwight Eisenhower was preaching about Western Values to the rest of the world, the rest of the world, at the time of the Olympics of 1960, was discussing the United States government in terms of its hypocrisy in its use of Black Athletes for its Olympic team in comparison to its treatment of Black citizens as a group in the nation.
In this blog, I’m not going to discuss peace marches, smoking weed, marijuana laws, dropping acid, racism, women in the work place, sexual liberation, international conflicts, protest music or protest groups, the status quo etc… any more than I have above, rather I’m going to attempt to explain, without concern for political correctness, a group of young men in a small town and how they dealt with some of the social changes.
Niggers were niggers. They had their own section of town. We were honkies or even white mother fuckers, and we had areas in which we lived and played. There was even an “Everyman’s” land, The Fellowship House. It was similar to the gym in West Side Story where the dance off occurs between the Puerto Rican Sharks gang and the white Jets gang. At the Fellowship House, whites and blacks played basketball, boxed, and used the outdoor facilities and fields to participate in sports, games and a variety of recreational activities together. The Fellowship House was racially neutral.
Since there were a lot of niggers involved in activities at the Fellowship House, many honky parents didn’t let their children go to the Fellowship House, especially at night. A group of my friends and I always went there to play hoops in the evening. It was the best competition in the area. One night a nigger sucker punched my honky brother on our way out of the Fellowship House. We couldn’t fight back. The odds were about forty niggers to four honkies where we stood, and that did not include the older niggers, 19 years old and above, who were inside. We had to walk away.
The traditional evening basketball league in the Fellowship House had a team of niggers known as the Bears. The Bears were the leagues annual champions. We put together a team full of local honky boys to challenge the Bears title. We were named Phil’s after the tavern that sponsored us as a team. We beat the Bears in the regular season, annihilated them in the playoffs and won the championship of the league. We were the first white team to win the league championship. However, for the first time in league history, the Bears had a white kid on their team, and a white team had a black kid on its team. It wasn’t much, and it didn’t stop the Bears from asking the older niggers “to jump” us and “kick our asses,” because we had taken the basketball title, but it was a change.
The older black guys refused “to jump” us and “kick our asses” and told the Bears, “You lost to those white mother fuckers, do it yourselves.”
Admittedly, this doesn’t seem like much, but it was the beginning of a pattern of getting along. We rode to high school basketball practices and games together and started to interact in friendly ways. I ran out of gas once in the black neighborhood, I knocked on the door of the home of a black member of the basketball team and asked for help getting some gas. His family sat me down, served me dinner and then a group of black kids got together and syphoned gasoline from local cars, and put the gas in my tank. They said, “later man,” and I left.
I know these don’t seem like big events, but they were. They were the beginning of friendships and the end of some of the racism that was rampant in the small town in which I lived. Somewhere along the line the blacks stopped being niggers, and the whites stopped being honkies and white mother fuckers. Solutions to differences began to no longer necessarily involve fighting or intimidation.
On another issue related to the times, when it became necessary for a group of my friends and I to register for the draft, we drove to the local draft board, me with hair flowing past my shoulders, and we registered for the draft because we felt it was the patriotic thing to do. We had all grown up with the Vietnam War on television. We had watched American soldiers jump from choppers into enemy areas. We watched sometimes as the American soldiers were shot at as they jumped from the choppers. Watching these nightly, news clips became scarier and scarier as we got older and closer to draft age. Fortunately, for all of us the draft numbers were selected, but the actual draft had stopped that year.
During the time period of the draft for the Vietnam War, a group of us initially thought Muhammad Ali was a “pussy” and not patriotic for refusing to go to war when he was drafted. It was an easy position to take since it was the position of our fathers. Later after having friends who refused to honor the draft and who burned draft cards, we became more tolerant of the differences in opinions.
We also had a lot of friends we liked and had grown up with who were in the Peace Movement. Many of us could not reconcile the idea of hating people we had liked for years because they decided differently than we had on the war versus peace issue. Besides as time went on and the debacle of the politics of the Vietnam War became more evident, we began to wonder about the war and its purpose ourselves.
We still loved The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and the sexual revolution. We still believed that Communism should be destroyed, Charles Manson and his crew should have gotten the chair, wondered why Tommy Smith and John Carlos had to protest in favor of black power while receiving medals at the 1968 Olympics, that the Israeli’s should hunt down and kill every PLO terrorist that had attacked and killed members of the Israeli Olympic team at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Jimmy Hoffa got what one gets when one fucks with the mob; Eisenhower was a great general but not a great president, and Richard Nixon was correctly nicknamed Tricky Dick.
But we had progressed in a number of areas good for society, not by saying, “We never called a black person a nigger in our lives, not by pretending that we weren’t called honkies and white mother fuckers.” We called and were called these names, but I believe because we worked through these issues with each other, they ceased to be issues. At this juncture, I don’t have a prejudiced “bone in my body.” I love my friends, black and white.
I believe the same occurred with the issues regarding the draft and the Peace Movement. Change happened.
As for three paragraphs above where I discuss still loving The Beatles and the Rolling Stones etc…, I still agree with all my thoughts on those issues. I also believe President Truman should have ordered the dropping of the Atom Bomb on the Japanese in August of 1945.