[Abandoned-Hotel Trash, Sharon Springs, N.Y. 2016]
The more I read Robert Rossner’s The Year Without an Autumn: Portrait of a School in Crisis, the more I realize I’ve forgotten way more than I remember about the 1968 crisis Rossner chronicles. Which is startling! For not only was I was an elementary school teacher at P.S. 120 when the Ocean Hill/Brownsville strike happened, I was a scab. Yes. Until our school’s custodians locked us out, P.S.120’s teachers of color crossed the United Federation of Teachers’ picket line (i.e. an irate group of P.S. 120’s white teachers) for a couple of weeks in the fall of 1968. Two white teachers chose to join those black teachers. I was one of them. You’d think I’d remember more!
So I’m struck by how much trauma and time (and, okay, maybe the druggy haze of the sixties) wreak havoc on remembrance.*
Here’s probably the worst thing I got dead-wrong: I’d remembered that less than ten NYC public-school teachers had been fired by the decentralized, parent-and-community-based (read People of Color) Ocean Hill/Brownsville board. Or so I’ve always thought. But, no, nineteen teachers had been fired by the “local control” folks. A significant number. (So: Forty-nine years later, I almost get why the UFT got so high and mighty about so many of its teachers getting canned. Almost.)
I knew one of those nineteen. He was a total incompetent at P.S. 120 and had been let go. His incompetence made my decision to support the Ocean Hill/Brownsville board’s right to fire him pretty straight-forward: Would I strike to protest his being fired? Hell, no. And so I crossed a picket line.
But here’s what I must say: All these years later, while I am glad (relieved?) I’d made the right decision, I am humbled by how next-to-nothing I really understood about systemic racism in 1968! I now know how blindly I made that decision! So when I say trauma is a factor to my swiss-cheese memory of this experience, I mean both the scary, nasty bits I have sublimated, paved over but also my present-day realization/horror that, actually, I’d stumbled into doing the right thing!
And, finally, to honor Shakespeare’s injunction to love and to remember: an incongruously-lovely memory; a (self) love story: Somehow, in the midst of being called horrible names as I crossed the picket line or, once inside, tried to teach a few scared children while fire alarms keep going off or, on the subway, getting punched by a young man of color because, why not? Racial tensions were tearing the whole city apart. Yet somehow, in the midst of all of that—and all that I have forgotten—I suddenly stopped smoking. Just like that. I’d learned that the minute you quit smoking your lungs begin to heal. What I had been doing to myself since I was fifteen could be fixed. Hope, possibility, redemption were possible. So I quit.
*There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember.” Shakespeare.
Another nice article. Somehow we usually end up where we are supposed to be.
Well, hi, there, Patricia, my so, so very For Always awesomely precious and dearly special soul sisterfriend Christian Quaker woman who you’re For Always so, so very much!!!!! UGH, Patricia, UGH-I struggle with having trouble to sleep from time to time so I thought it would help me to write my very heartfelt, detailed, and thorough response with my comment and my ideas and thoughts instead of tossing and turning not being able to sleep and to no avail!:)!!!!! Wow, Patricia, WOW!!!!! I so love a whole bunch this absolutely fantastic and very interesting blog post article of yours as your reflect and reminisce on your past experiences as a teacher back in 1968 and how God used you unbeknownst to you at the time to do a good thing when you were a scab crossing the picket line with the black teachers, and the only other white teacher. Wow, Patricia, WOW!!!!! This is such a great story here and very fascinating, sisterfriend! Wow, I’m so glad that you were at the very beginning of your dealing with gaining more racial awareness and learning more about anti-racism even though back then you were in the very early stages of this having not yet learned or understood about systemic racism. Wow, I am just so, so very pleased, so, so very thrilled, overjoyed, and happy that you were a teacher grappling with very many issues pertinent to the very needs of your students and as you were in your very early stages of your learning, growth, and healing, sister. Sister, wow, this is just great here reading about you and you as a teacher engaged with your role as an educator as best as you could have back then being in the early stages of your growth. I so, so very much love, enjoy, and appreciate the marvelous link which you have very graciously and generously included and featured with this very fine and excellent blog post article, Patricia. Wow, your retelling as to how you stumbled into doing the right thing is just awesome, my so, so very dearest and darling friend. I really liked reading about what all happened back then with the strike and you along with the black teachers and the other white teacher crossing the picket line. Wow, it is a miracle that the person who was ill-equipped to be an educator with incompetence did get fired. You were doing Spirit’s work even though you didn’t know it at the time. Sister, I had lived in one of the inner city areas of Cleveland, Ohio until I was five-years-old when my family and I moved to one of the suburbs of Cleveland called Cleveland Heights, Ohio in November 1967. In my former inner city neighborhood I remember it being an all black or mostly all black neighborhood but there was a white woman who lived on my street. Also, I attended Catholic nursery school(I used to be Catholic) and had a very spectacular white woman for my teacher being the only black student from what I can remember. My Catholic Church when I still lived in one of the inner city areas of Cleveland was a majority white church. When we moved to Cleveland Heights which back in November 1967 was very much a majority white suburb we switched to a Catholic Church in Cleveland Heights. I remember with such loving and cherished memories with the Catholic Schools which I attended in Cleveland Heights as well as the public schools I attended that I had very, very many mainly so, so very right on, wondrously wonderful white women as my teachers continuing into all of my college experiences. I remember in my senior year of high school in 1979-1980 very many of my teachers went on strike for two days. My Senior Year English teacher whom I just so loved and enjoyed as a teacher told my class that she wanted to make sure that we as students still received an education so she wrote her home telephone number on the chalk board and said that if we wanted to that she could teach us privately on her own time. WOW, what a brave teacher she was to do this! The strike ended after two days and I cannot seem to remember why the strike happened at all. My Senior Year English teacher was a white woman, sister and friend of mine, Patricia. She very sadly died in the early 1980s from leukemia which she was suffering from when she taught that class. Sister I know that very many blacks and other persons of color who have experienced having white teachers complain that they have had bad experiences but I by far had much more rewarding and positive experiences from my very, very many mainly white women teachers! Growing up in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District back then(University Heights is another suburb of Cleveland adjacent to Cleveland Heights)my experiences with racism and other concerning experiences with my very, very many mainly white women as my teachers continuing with my white women educators all throughout my college experiences with these issues were by far few and far between. I was very much encouraged to excel and to go to college. I very frequently received excellent grades from these marvelous white women as my very progressive teachers. Only some of the time did I think that I should have received a slightly higher grade on my school work but those experiences by far were few and far between. Sister, even when my white women teachers made mistakes I feel that they were very eager to learn, heal, grow, and to gain in their anti-racism and racial awareness in looking at their white privilege in their loving interaction with me as their student. Overall, I had a very positive and optimistic, encouraging, inspiring, and emboldening experience with my white women teachers! I am even on the reunion lists for all of my schools in Cleveland Heights and stay in touch with some of my old friends and classmates and even with some of my former teachers there! As I For Always say, do, think, feel, and believe I so, so very much love and cherish YOU, my dear, dearest Patricia, and other so, so very right on, wondrously wonderful white women with you all being my very, very heart thinking very highly of you all as people who very often are so loving, caring, kind, good, friendly, goodnatured, goodhearted, and sweet to me and to others! I know that racism is very real but I think with all of my very, very heart, and with all of my very, very heart, mind, soul, and spirit that YOU, sister and friend of mine, Patricia, and other super white women are doing your absolutely very best and trying so hard thinking and believing this with all that I have with all of my very being! You all as such superbly super white women and white girls have your very cross to bear and being oppressed as well facing, enduring, and experiencing very viciously pernicious and pervasive sexism, misogyny, and for very many white women and white girls facing, enduring, and experiencing sexual assault and sexual abuse in all of its forms, sexual harassment, and sexual terrorism. You all as white women are my very favorites among white people, and each of you are my very favorite people among all people in general, sisterfriend!!!!! I have had terrific friendships with splendid white women as an adult and white girls as a child all of my life, and also I’ve been in interracial lesbian relationships with so very cool full of spirit white women and long so wanting so and yearning for someday just knowing that I’ll be in an interracial lesbian relationship with an awesome white woman again someday! I have such very complete love for and confidence, faith, trust, hope, and belief in all of you as so, so very dearly precious and awesomely special white women and in all of your great potential for abundant and actual great good! You all can for sure count on me to have your backs and to be there for each of you very delightfully and eagerly rooting heartily for all of you and very wholeheartedly cheering you all on!!!!! You all can for sure count on me and I have the faith and the confidence that we all can work together and that very many of you can be there for me, too, and that I can also count on each of you!!!! Wow!!!!! Yay!!!!!! And this is my sacred promised to Spirit and to each and every one of you as such absolutely amazing white women, Patricia!!!!!
Sister, what a beautiful and so lovely gift and blessing of healing which you had back then when you were able to give up cigarette smoking that had been something that you did since the age of fifteen!!!! Wow, Patricia, God is for sure there for us in the hard places as you have very wisely written about before. Wow, I just can feel how bad the racial tensions were back then and how you are a survivor, sister, and survived those times. I am just horrified and angry that that young man of color punched you!!!! That would have been terrifying, sister!!!! Wow, that is not good at all and is so uncalled for, sisterfriend!!!!!
Sister, I love so your very applicable title to this great article here with the brilliant quote you used for the title from Shakespeare, Patricia. The picture which you have very graciously and generously featured and included with this very fine and excellent blog post article here is very intriguing here. Wow, all in all this very engaging and outstanding blog post article here by absolutely awesome YOU is such a joyful blessing to read and such a joyous pleasure to respond to with my thoughts, ideas, and comments! What great reading pleasure once again here, my friend!!!!! Sister, by the time you read this it will be Friday so please have such an absolutely fantastic and fun-filled, Friday, a wondrously wonderful weekend, and may all of your very days be so, so very especially blessed, Patricia!!!! Sister, now I feel even better and brighter with even more cheer after the sheer joy and pleasure of reading this stupendous article and responding to it, friend and sister of mine, Patricia!!!!! Sisterfriend, I thank Spirit continually for YOU and for YOUR very presence in my life, Patricia!!!! Yay for YOU, Patricia!!!! Yay for our very friendship and sisterhood, Patricia!!!! Yay for all you do in such a very fine and excellent fashion, Patricia!!!! Yay!!!! God so, so very much loves and cherishes YOU, Patricia, and so do I!!!!!
Very Warmly and Sincerely For Always, my super soul sisterfriend For Always Christian Quaker white woman who you’re For Always so, so very much, Patricia, with My and God’s Peace and Love For You For Always, sister of mine, and with Such Blessings and Such Very Even More Blessings for YOU, friend of mine,
Yours For Always soul sisterfriend Christian black woman and For Always in the very great spirit of unity and solidarity, Sherry Gordon in Iowa City, Iowa
I always love reading your comments, Sherry.
This week, I especially appreciated learning about your teachers. What a blessing to your life!
I too am surprised at how much I forget about my life. My older sister is my official life historian. Also amazed at how I even survived, my clueless young self that is. Not sure I changed the course of history in any dramatic way, but perhaps I did, and forgot it?
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