AN ORAL HISTORY: RE-ASSESSING THE CURRENT STATE OF RACE IN THESE UNITED STATES FOLLOWING CHARLOTTESVILLE
Almost every single individual interviewed discussed the implications of tokenism in professional, educational, and athletic organizations. Another difference between the interviews is the varying use of terminology. O.K. Fulton, who is an 86 year-old white man, utilized terms such as “Anglo,” and “Oriental,” which are perceived as politically incorrect today, yet his interview was focused on how he had one of the most diverse and inclusive teams in Avondale’s educational history. 74 year-old Wally Graham focused on the evolution of terms and the implications of how the black community started with being called “colored” and today are back to “black,” which in his words, is “just another color.” Multiple intervewées also addressed the modern presence of ANTIFA, and how fascism is coming back into the forefront of media coverage and society, which feels like déjà vu for many Americans. Similarly to addressing ANTIFA, there was a common thread throughout the interviews of reacting either in favor or outwardly against the notion of equating both the far-left and far-right. Every single person also emphasized the importance of discussion, especially in the education system, and especially following Charlottesville.
Wally Graham is a 74 year-old African American man originally from Baltimore, Maryland. His great grandparents and grandparents were freed men (and women) in Maryland. His paternal grandparents were slaves who were freed in Kentucky and Indiana after the Civil War. He grew up in a suburban master planned community called Cherry Hill, and then attended the first newly built integrated high school in Baltimore. His mother was a housemaid for rich families, and his father was a waiter who worked in rich country clubs in the suburbs of Baltimore. Mr. Graham attended Morgan State College, a historically Black college.
In 1965, I participated in sit-ins to integrate a movie theater near my college that would not allow Blacks to go to the movies. Shut them down. My biggest regret is I missed the 1963 March on Washington because I decided to work. I needed money to pay tuition. First in my family to earn a college degree.
The positive side was the number of firsts I was able to accumulate. I was in right place at right time: smart, personable, and lucky. First Black probation officer hired in Baltimore County, and many more firsts. I used to tell co-workers jokingly that they were right- I was hired because I am Black, but I was retained and promoted because I am excellent. Today, there is less sensitivity to lack of diversity in workplaces. Companies appear to be less concerned about purposefully recruiting a diverse workplace. I smile inside when I notice how people react when introduced to a Black guy they thought was going to be a white expert in my field.
In 1984, the neighbor across the street from my first home in Arizona did not want me to live on his street in the custom home we purchased. That neighbor asked my contractor why he was building a house for Black people. I have been stopped by a policeman in communities where we lived. The cops usually claimed they had a call about a car that looked like mine. One time was driving a new Lexus.
Since my high school was a new, we were building the history. Everything was exciting.
And going to Morgan State was a positive experience culturally. It helped me and others get deeper in understanding our history and the rapid changes. All kinds of immigrant cultures that came had the opportunity to get centered in where they came from. I got grounded early on in my culture and who I am. I was reinforced by my parents. If you ever watch a movie called “the Help”, my mother was like those ladies. She was a strong individual so people she worked with valued her opinion. She brought that home. I wasn’t easily overwhelmed by other people’s prejudices or my own prejudices.
One cycle in my life was monocultural. As young kids we explored miles of Cherry Hill without having to leave. I can’t say every kid I grew up with had those same experiences, but it taught the people in my community that the best thing that ever happened was Cherry Hill.
In my mother’s generation we were colored, then in the 40s we became negros. In the 70s we became African Americans. Just like that. It changes your thought about who you are. Colored is a neutral sound for “I’m different”. Negro gets down to the origins of a person. African American talks about the history of who we are. Now today were black. Back to another color (laughs). The Black Lives Matter movement has grown out of concern about a rising number of police shootings. Conservatives made it worse by commenting that all lives matter. That was their way of saying it didn’t matter that Black people were killed.
Charlottesville was something I hadn’t seen in 50 years. They were openly parading without hoods or faces covered. Nobody would ever declare yourself as a nazi or a fascist back in my day. That merger between KKK and nazis only started to get blended in the 80s. You’d get run out of town. I asked a number of my conservative friends, “So, does a good nazi only kills 300 Jews instead of 300 million?” There’s also that new word ANTIFA. There was a time in my life where being anti-fascist was great. I also ask my conservative friends, “So if you’re not ANTIFA you must be PROFA?” It seems like a cop-out. People are now saying you shouldn’t be anti-fascist, which is worrisome.
Linda Alvarez is a 26 year-old Latina woman from San Antonio, Texas who currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona. She works for the Phoenix Art Museum, and is officially in charge of directing the museum’s Teen Art Council. The interview was done in a conference room at Phoenix Art Museum, where Linda would host a Teen Art Council meeting an hour later.
“Charlottesville was one group coming up against another in a way that there’s no possibility for conversation or for any exchange of ideas other than anger. I don’t see how anything good can ever come from a confrontation like that. It’s hard not to feel like it’s not another sign that the world has gone to pieces. This isn’t the first time a violent incident has happened. Our entire history is riddled with this kind of thing happening. It’s hard because we have to consider the consequences of exercising your First Amendment Right. The alt-right is using that to justify what they’re doing. You can’t justify everything with free speech. I just don’t see any of this coming to a peaceful conclusion any time soon. I mean, there was a police presence at events including the rally even here when Trump was in town. I didn’t get tear gassed so that was great (laughs).
I think people have always been ostracized from each other and now it’s just more out in the open. It feels like a wound that never properly healed.
I feel like for a long time… okay I’m 26… but for a while it kind of felt like we were making progress. When Obama got elected, I think I was your age. His whole campaign was Hope, building a better nation , and having like the first black president of the United States. Even towards the end of his presidency, when he was less popular, I felt like he still ended on a good note, and it sort of feels like this golden era. You think about what happened even during his presidency, like Ferguson. Especially in the South, it remains so impoverished and underprivileged. How much has really changed? How do you get out of those systems? You mentioned the Rodney King riots earlier where it was a similar place that had become very rough. If that’s your life, and it feels like everything is against you, how do you get out find equality other than through massive outbursts? Things are are definitely more out in the open now. I don’t know what Supremacist groups were doing all those years, but they were probably still recruiting, but they were doing them in a slightly different context where it didn’t feel like they were the dominant voice.
Back to Charlottesville, one of the arguments for taking them down is that a lot of those sculptures didn’t go up until the Jim Crow era as a final sort of digging in your heels saying “this is what this place is.” I sometimes feel like it’s still like South versus North even though we’ve been unified for over a hundred years. It just depends on like how tightly you want to hold on to that history.
Personally, I’ve had both negative and positive experiences. The he positive is usually that sometimes people assume correctly, and it makes him feel more at ease if they are from a similar background. Someone who doesn’t speak English very well takes the guess like, “this person looks like they might speak Spanish.” If they’re right and I can help them out, I see that as a positive part of looking the way that I do. The fact that I’m female and look harmless plays a part in that too. I also have had negative experiences where people see you as an outsider. As a woman walking downtown in pretty much any part of the world you get cat-called. One of my pet peeves is when someone calls me “exotic.” Or the question “where are you from?” with the implication that you don’t look like you’re from here.
There are also things like affirmative action, which can be a tricky. I got a full scholarship to college, and I’m like “OK, I know that I’m smart, and I know that I’ve worked hard, but did I get this because I earned it?”
I just think that there’s a lot to be gained by being exposed to people with experiences that are different than yours. Art education is a field that has been historically dominated by white females. But, the research backs up that diverse teams are just generally more successful no matter what field you’re in.
David Schleifer is a 44 year-old Jewish man from Litchfield Park, Arizona. He did not disclose his occupation or any professional ties at any time during the interview. The discussion occurred at his kitchen table, where his wife and two teenage children were in the other room, watching television and chatting loudly. His son asked “What’s Charlottesville?” before the recording started. It was pointed out before the interview that the children’s school does not allow discussion of anything past the 1950s.
“It’s hard to tell what’s really going on because of the media. They don’t give you the full story. They give you the parts and the sensationalism, so it’s hard to tell whether or not it’s fully the true story.
I think that the monument of the General in that Park is a symbol of of slavery, and in the South, anytime you look around those states, you see these monuments or these flags… it’s a hurtful thing for the people who might have had relatives who were slaves. I understand not wanting to go outside and see the constant reminders. There needs to be a definite discussion of of the Confederate flag and the monuments, but I’m not sure that those monuments need to be up. If history isn’t passed on to future generations, then it can be repeated. I want to make sure that my kids and grandkids understand what those Confederate flags and monuments really meant. I think that slavery is behind us. I just think that race relations are… I don’t wanna say doing fine, but… as a whole, people are getting along better.
I don’t really deal with it in my day-to-day life. I just deal with people as they come, and race doesn’t really enter my mind into how I deal with somebody. If they’re respectful to me, then I’m respectful back I’ve grown up to respect everybody no matter their race, religion or anything like that. That’s the way I live my life. I haven’t had any real negative encounters dealing with race.
On each end of the spectrum there’s going to be hate groups be out there in the country, so I don’t think that hate groups are ever going to go away. I think they’ve been here forever and they’re going to continue to be there.”
Oren Karchner “O.K.” Fulton is an 86 year-old German man from Phoenix, Arizona. He was a basketball coach, teacher, and principal at Agua Fria High School in Avondale from the 1960s to the early 2000s, and served on the Agua Fria School Board for 16 years. In 2009, he inducted Randall McDaniel, his former student, into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The interview took place at the comfortable chair he has in front of the television and the bookshelf filled with every Agua Fria yearbook since the 1950s. Stools were pulled up to the recliner to hold the recording technology. His wife, Judith, was in the kitchen preparing food for his birthday party.
“Racism always seems to rear its ugly head. When I went to Mississippi Southern in 1954, they had the “colored only” water taps and it was against the law for us to compete athletically with blacks. I didn’t understand. We didn’t have any black people at all at the University of idaho, but at Eastern AZ there was a good amount of black athletes, so I was shocked that there were none at Idaho. I mean, I guess there weren’t none, but they were going by “separate by equal”.
When it came to Agua Fria, in ‘57, it was about 65% anglo, 50% hispanic, and 15% black, and we had an occasional oriental, but that was the racial makeup. I was on the School Board for 16 years and I never had to deal with any black related issues. I was thankful. I remember the first state championship team we had in 1962, there was a guy who said “do you know you only start 1 white basketball player, but you start 2 Mexicans and 2 blacks?” I said, “The reason I start them is because I think they deserve to start. I resent you for even thinking that I would play someone based on their skin. I don’t want to be associated with that. Don’t come to my games if you’re gonna do that.” It was a diverse team. Every team I’d ever had was.
I hope that when I’m gone they’ll say I was someone who always treated the kids on their abilities. Race had nothing to do with it. I hope we can reach that one day… where race is not a factor.”