Color-Blind and the Infinite Capacity of Hope

Arkansas School for the Blind, Colored Department -- from the Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind

Arkansas School for the Blind, Colored Department — from the Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind

I have talked about how I attended the Arkansas School for the Blind from kindergarten up to halfway through the 9th grade, and then switched to the public school system.  I have also posted about being born in the midst of the Civil Rights era in the south, with everything that went on at Little Rock Central High School in the mid-1950’s.

The United States Supreme Court handed down an order to the school to admit African-American children, and 9 brave black kids were chosen.  Governor Orval Faubus resisted the order and called out the Arkansas National Guard to prevent integration.

Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus

Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus

President Dwight Eisenhower triumphed, and Little Rock Central High School was integrated.  See for yourself what President Eisenhower had to say:

This was the all-white Arkansas School for the Blind my father graduated from in the 1940's.

This was the all-white Arkansas School for the Blind my father graduated from in the 1940’s.

This was the Arkansas School for the Blind I attended till half-way through the 9th grade.  It was an all-white school until 1965.

This was the Arkansas School for the Blind I attended till half-way through the 9th grade. It was an all-white school until 1965.

I am brought back in time, to 1965, when I was a student at the Arkansas School for the Blind.  The school was not yet integrated and there were no black students.  I didn’t realize there was a completely separate school for the blind for “colored children.”  Half-way through the school year, we were told that black students would be joining us.  See Arkansas School for the Blind, Colored Department (Little Rock) from which I am quoting (emphasis mine):

  • Established 1889

  • Integrated with the Arkansas School for the Blind, 1965

The Colored Department of the Arkansas Institute for the Education of the Blind was opened in October of 1889. The principal was Mr. T.R. Ish, who had been chosen by the Board of Directors “on account of good work and a peculiar adaptability.”1 Mr. Ish’s wife, Jennie, was the housemother and also taught the students sewing and other domestic tasks. The Colored Department employed a cook, laundress, and gardener. At the end of 1890, the department had enrolled fifteen students, nine boys and six girls.

In 1955, after Brown v Board of Education, the wrestling teams of the Colored Department began practicing with the white students. Although the students continued to attend separate schools, they traveled as one team to away wrestling matches. The music departments of the two schools entertained each other with band and choral music concerts. The two schools were not integrated in one location until the 1965-66 school year, when the students at the former black school (the “Madison School”) joined the students at the “Markham Street School.” (The Madison Street school was built expressly for the Colored Department in 1953, one year before Brown v Topeka.) According to Margaret Johnson, a senior in that year, the atmosphere was somewhat tense, especially at first. The principal canceled the school dance in the fall, fearing whites and blacks would dance together and antagonize parents. However, “we weren’t bothered by it, so our parents weren’t bothered, and he figured it was a bunch of fuss over nothing. He didn’t cancel the Christmas dance and we all had a good time.”

Biennial report of the Arkansas School for the Blind, 1896-1898.

Searching back through dim memories, I can recall the teachers nervously preparing us for the arrival of the black students.  I was too young to be aware of the kerfuffle about the dance.  But I do remember that the coming of the black students was a non-event for we white students.  What did it matter?  We were blind, so we were color-blind, and most of us couldn’t see the color of one’s skin.  We simply had more friends like us who also could not see.

It’s not 100% true, however, that the “parents weren’t bothered.”  At least not in my mother’s case.  A kind black boy joined my 3rd grade class named Duke.  Duke later on played trumpet in the school band and I played clarinet.  Except for the few of us who lived in Little Rock, most of the students resided in dorms and went home to visit family over the weekend.

Duke’s family was too poor to afford a weekly bus ticket home.  So he had to stay at the school on the weekends and was very lonely.  Meanwhile, I was bullied by neighborhood children, and was lonely as well.  So I gave Duke my telephone number, and he would call me on weekends and we would chat and laugh and keep each other company.

Until that is….  my mother discovered I was talking to a black boy on the telephone.  She grabbed the receiver out of my hand and screamed at him, “Don’t ever call here again.”  I was embarrassed and humiliated and thought I’d lost a friend.  Floyd, however, did not hold my mother’s actions against me or even complain.  When we were old enough for band, he sat behind me with his trumpet while I played my clarinet.  Thank for understanding, Duke, wherever you are.

Love and friendship are color-blind even if one has perfect eyesight.  I am fortunate to have learned that lesson even in the cauldron of bigotry I grew up around.  Perhaps that’s why I go on fighting the battles against injustice still today.  Whether one is transgendered or gay or lily white, we all bleed red.  We hurt, we cry, we live, we love.  What counts is what is in the heart and making a difference and doing the best one can in trying times.

I offer this:

And a 2010 remake of one of the most inspirational songs ever…

Always remember the infinite capacity of hope and smile at someone today!

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About DogDharma

Dog Dharma is written by a human who loves dogs and who believes dogs have attained enlightenment. The human behind Dog Dharma came from humble origins, has faced many trials, enjoyed many adventures, and taken a path less traveled. He claims no special privilege or expertise, and remains humble. Dog Dharma‘s author has learned a few things along the way, and has much yet to learn. He has been told by many people that he has a talent for writing, and aspires to write a book, but is a little too lazy and disorganized, so his blog will suffice for now. He opens a window into his life in the hope that some of his words may be of comfort, some may be a beacon or warning, and perhaps he will connect with like-minded souls. Everything shared comes from a place of openness and honesty, but with no claim that he possesses the Truth. People and places mentioned should be taken as pseudonyms. In many cases, details may be an amalgamation of actual events disguised to protect the “innocent.” Nothing written is to be taken as actual fact, but as the author of Dharma Dog‘s limited understanding. From the mouths of the Beatles: In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make
This entry was posted in Arkansas, Arkansas School for the Blind, blind, color-blind, Dwight eisenhower, Helen Keller, hope, inspiration, Orval Faubus, race, racism and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Color-Blind and the Infinite Capacity of Hope

  1. mandy says:

    “Whether one is transgendered or gay or lily white, we all bleed red.” If we could all be a beautiful in spirit as you, Terry, it would be a good thing. ❤

    Like

    • DogDharma says:

      Mandy, I don’t make any claims to be “good” — I have many flaws, and I just do my best as I’m able. When one is “tried by fire” so to speak, with many things one didn’t ask for, one learns the value of being honest and kind. And I know that you of all people know that much, just as I do. Back atcha! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

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