I grew up in Columbus, Mississippi from 1959 - 1966 as the son of an Air Force pilot stationed at Columbus AFB, a few miles from downtown. I loved my experience there, graduating from S.D. Lee High in 1966. I did not understand that there was a race relations problem in Mississippi at the time. I remember it as a very gentle place with very friendly people regardless of color. In fact, it wasn't until I moved to New York City after graduating from Ole Miss in 1970 that I was even exposed to unkindly thoughts related to ethnic background. Part of this may be the fact that we lived on a Federal reservation and experienced integration day by day. Nor did I see anything in town or in my school that led me to conclude differently. However, in New York City in the early 1970's, I learned that Italians, Polacks, Blacks, Jews, Puerto Ricans, whites, spics, Irish, chinks, grease balls, etc, etc, all hated each other to varying degrees. Wow! I frankly didn't know that there was that many varieties of my fellow mankind packed in such an overcrowded space as Manhattan.
Now, at age 62, I still look in amazement as to how well we all do get along in times needing common community strength. Certainly the cultural diversity that has enriched us all, whether through family, religion or cuisine weaves through a fabric that makes us who we are as individuals as well as Americans. But we as ethnic groups were still divided in NY; but viewed the South as the epicenter for racial intolerance. Easier to point at others than address our own problems in our own backyards.
I do at times yearn for those gentler times in Mississippi. I also see the promise of the future in my young daughter's eyes as she interviews for her ultimate place as a Freshman in college this Fall. The years somehow bridged with an inbred tolerance and in fact yearning for things which enrich us. Godspeed my beauty through your Senior year in High School. May you be blessed with a kinder and gentler time for perspective for your college experience, and may you be blessed with your neighbors and colleagues as friends regardless of color or creed as I found in Mississippi in a time that apparently no one else remembers.