by Duane Ausherman
My first direct experience with racism was at about age 12.
I was reared in Wichita, KS. Kansas has a history of openness in the area of race. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Brown_(abolitionist)
My mother hated racism and didn’t hide her opinions. She also had Asperger’s like me. Kansas declared integration for schools in about 1950. It barely made the news, and I don’t recall any conflict.
The first year of open classes was my 5th grade. Since our school was only a few blocks from “colored town” we had a few black students enroll.
One was especially noticeable, and that was Edgar Lee Blackman. He was extremely social and outgoing. Being an Aspie, I was the opposite, shy and quiet. I don’t recall ever talking with Edgar while we were in grade school.
At the same time, blacks were starting to move out of the black ghetto and into white neighborhoods. Ours was a lower-middle-class area. The first black family to move in was just behind our house. The property values dropped as whites clamored to move out. My family understood that the property values would soon return, so we stayed.
My mother began talking with the black mother of the house behind us, and they became friends. She told my mother that they would only live there for a few years and then move to another predominately white neighborhood. She didn’t want her children to be affected by the all too often loser mentality in colored town. Those two became very close. I remember once at church several were asking my mom about how it was to live next to blacks. I didn’t at the time understand her comment but have never forgotten it. She said, “They are a much better class of people than the whites that moved out.”
When I started Intermediate school (middle school), it was for grades 7, 8 & 9.
I would ride my bike the mile or so to the new school. Soon I noticed that Edgar was walking to and from school. I offered to have him ride on the back of my bike, and he accepted. Upon return home, my mother would always feed him something, such as a cookie. She had the idea that it was her job to feed the world. She loved to feed any friends that came to see me.
There were maybe a dozen or two other black students at the school. One day I met 3-4 boys, and one was also named Duane. We compared the spelling, and that was about it. They were all excellent students and dressed better than I was. Remember, my family was lower class, and I often wore patched clothing.
I had three cousins who had preceded me at that school, and they explained things. There was a gang of 4-5 white bullies that would select one kid a day to hit, punch and bully all day long. The next day it would be another boy. Everybody knew who they were.
One day it was my turn to be bullied. They began before school by talking trash and shoving me around a bit. All at once they stopped, and I noticed that they weren’t looking at me, but at something behind me. I turned to see those four black boys standing behind me and saying nothing, just standing a few feet behind me. The bullies were so afraid of those black boys that they went way out of their way to avoid me during the next two years. The black students were non-violent and would never cause any trouble, but the bullies didn’t know that.
At the time, I only vaguely understood that my friendship with Edgar was the key to the support from the black students against the bullies.
This event was the first of several times that a black person saved me from violence from white people.
Black people have added to my life in so many ways.