Why a white guy would feel talking about race relations would be worthwhile
Race relations were not an issue in lily white Northern Vermont where I was born and raised in the 1940s and 1950s.
Charlotte County, Florida has been my home for 6-7 months a year since 1983 and living in Punta Gorda I have always known there was a black community, but I never met any black people at any social group I attended.
I would have liked to meet and know some black people, so when the chance to participate in Study Circles on Racial Relations came along I quickly made it my business to attend all the meetings.
As a result I got a chance to talk with some black people and was lucky enough to find a black friend to meet often for lunch. Our discussions are sometimes on race, but mostly on other subjects of mutual interest.
I know that racial and ethnic diversity are not subjects of interest to most people, but they have always interested me. I welcome meeting people different than myself and I enjoy hearing and learning about their culture. I always felt that all humans were brothers and sisters, and the attitudes that cause people to think otherwise puzzle me.
In a small town, like Orleans, VT, people say hello to one another whenever they meet, like boats passing on the water, each wave or speak acknowledging the others presence. So while waiting for my wife shopping in the Punta Gorda Publix Id sit out side on the bench and say hello to passerbys. I noticed it was hard to make eye contact or voice contact with black people. Sometimes it would work, but most often not.
However, when my wife was shopping at U Save it was easy for me to make eye contact and talk with black people. I asked my black friend about this and he said that the difference was in the physical location. Publix was West of 41 in white territory, and U Save was East of 41 in black territory.
Recently Ive had reason to go to the Cooper Street Rec Hall, in black territory, to talk with people over there. Black or White they are easy to talk to. But, strangely, I have never been able to make eye contact or say hello to a Black person at the Charlotte Library in the Culture Center in Port Charlotte, which is white territory..
These may be subtle issues, but to me they speak of a problem that should be worked on. In the months and years ahead I hope I can continue to expand my circle of black friends and in the process answer for myself some of these troubling questions.
Study circles have been worthwhile to me because they were a chance to meet black people in a social setting. I hope the meetings continue, and that more people, both black and white will join in the discussions.
Henry Stevens Punta Gorda , Florida.
Notes. This was a newspaper column I wrote during the civic discussion period.