As an eighth grader I entered segregated St. Mary’s of the Assumption school for two months at the end of the school year. My family had come apart in the Chicago suburbs and one of my sisters and I were sent to live with relatives in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. I’d never been in a school separated by race. The only time whites and Blacks mingled at St.Mary’s happened on the playground where we defiantly integrated ourselves into two mixed-gender baseball teams.
For as long as I can remember my sisters and I followed our parents into the very last pew of church for Sunday Mass. They timed it so we arrived about twenty minutes late, in time for the Consecration of the Eucharist, the attendance marker at the mandatory once a week Mass.
As we approached our first Sunday at St. Mary’s Church in Upper Marlboro, my sister and I naturally headed for the pews in the back of the church. A white man ushered us out of our seats into a pew toward the front. Only Blacks sat in the back.The Sunday my mother visited us she pushed the white usher aside and insisted on sitting in the back. Her hangovers were far too severe to suffer through the entire hour of a full Mass. She needed a quick exit after the obligatory Communion.
One day St. Mary’s eighth grade class was bussed twenty minutes down the road to Andrews Air Force Base to greet President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Blacks in the back of the bus. Whites in the front. We’d been given little American flags to wave at the president as he deplaned Air Force One. It was 1959 and my first experience at an event for a President of the United States.
Sixteen years after my St. Mary’s grade school graduation, I read about Jimmy Carter’s campaign for president in Time Magazine. Carter, as governor, in a surprise to fellow Georgians had denounced racism and segregation. I wrote to him in Plains, Georgia, applauding his positions and volunteered for his presidential campaign. He sent me a hand written thank you note with a postscript to contact the local Democrats in my small New Jersey town.
Around that time, my son’s hockey coach was mounting his own campaign for mayor. Eventually the coach endorsed Carter and opened a local campaign office. To the great consternation of my then-husband, I spent all my spare time campaigning for Jimmy Carter. That husband expressed his silent scorn by laying on the couch drinking cases of beer. I, in turn, after a year of abstinence in Alcoholics Anonymous, slipped into the basement with quarts of vodka to escape what looked like a doomed existence.
We both stayed sober for our last family excursion—waving little American flags outside the U.S. Capitol for Jimmy Carter’s Inauguration in January, 1977.
A month later I finished my last drink and got a divorce. In years since, I’ve organized events for many Democrats and eventually worked for President Bill Clinton. I’ve never failed to distribute small American flags to the diverse crowds.