Some people have questioned my political leanings. Why, they ask, are you so liberal?
Actually, I don’t think of myself as a liberal. Certainly, I can see eye-to-eye with fiscal conservatives. But I was raised to believe that all people are created equal. I’m not talking specifics here—Little Johnny may have more brains than Little Spencer. Little Clarissa may have been born to a wealthy family and have advantages over Little Joanie. No, what I am looking at is the forest here—or the species, really. What I am saying is that though our skin color may be different or our religion or our ethnicity or sexual orientation—underneath it all, we are human beings. We are the same.
It’s been fifty years since Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech. My classmates and I were privileged to hear him speak before then. In November, 1961, at the invitation of our principal, Frank Hanawalt, Martin Luther King Jr. came to Garfield High School to speak. He also spoke at my temple, Temple De Hirsch Sinai. Many of my contemporaries heard him there. He spoke of brotherhood and kinship and equality for all. He made us realize we could do something to create change.
From that time on, I had a dream that all children would be treated equally no matter their race, religion, or ethnicity. It was so apparent to me that people are people—some are good and some are bad. Some are smart and some are stupid. But I could also see that the economic and social divide of America was of Grand Canyon proportions. If you came from a disadvantaged background, it could make all the difference to getting ahead. I felt education was a key to getting people out of the ghetto.
I began teaching at Meany Junior High in 1967. I wanted to work within the system rather than outside of it. (I ‘d become a civil rights activist in my own way since college. Once, George Lincoln Rockwell, the Nazi bigot, came to speak at the University of Washington. Many of us were outraged. When they wouldn’t cancel the speech, we attended, sitting Caucasian, African American, Caucasian, African American throughout the auditorium.)
At Meany, located in Seattle’s inner city, I became a civil rights advocate in my classroom. Someday, I thought, if these kids were encouraged and given the chance to learn, they could go anywhere—why they could even become president!
When I quit teaching to raise my family, I brought the ideal of equality into our household. For starters, I put a poster of a white baby sitting next to a black baby, by my children’s crib. I am proud to say that my children and their children do not disappoint me. In reality, babies are color blind. You have to be taught to fear and hate. My daughter just sent me this photo. Our granddaughter, who is 18 months, had settled two of her dolls together for the night.
I think it is inconceivable to my children and grandchildren. that African Americans had to sit in different parts of a bus or drink at different fountains. It was to me, too. I remember going to a high school convention that was held in Houston. When I mentioned that my school was integrated, other delegates couldn’t believe me.
“So, they go to your school, but they have different classrooms,” one girl said.
“No, of course not,” I said.
“Really? Well, they sit on the other side of the room, then,” another girl said.
I shook my head. “Nope, we all sit together.”
They were astounded.
I wish I’d known then that Jimi Hendrix was going to be famous because I could have bragged that he sat next to me in Sophomore English.