During my senior year at California State College-Long Beach, I dreamt of leaving what I perceived as a cloistered ethnic enclave, Gardena, California. The yearning to breathe freely was then strong for this little brown man, Number One son of immigrant parents wishing to escape the parochialism of my situation. I intentionally applied to three leading graduate universities—all outside of California. The letter from Charles Bowerman, Chair, Department of Sociology, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill became my first significant ticket to freedom, with a Teaching Assistantship with tuition remission accompanying my admission to the program.
I have since been blessed several times over during my now 55 years in North Carolina and Virginia. Who knew the sixties would become the Sixties. I believe the entire student population at the university in 1960 was 9,000, a different place than the one my son would attend in the 1990s into the 21st century (three degrees). I slept in Connor dorm for four years and roamed the halls of Alumni Hall for five.
From 1961-1965 I was supported as a research assistant to Charles Bowerman, Ernest Campbell (not all five years), and my operational supervisor and friend, Dick Cramer on a federally funded project to study aspirations of black and white students attending the then still segregated public schools in Virginia and North Carolina representing the Upper South and Alabama and Mississippi representing the Lower South, stratified by type of community (rural-urban), region of each state, and school size. During 1963, Dick and I drove to the various communities and split up visiting black and white high schools. Several incidents during these school visits stand out. A rural Alabama school I visited starkly demonstrated facility inequality between this black school with the white one in the same community. The surface of a classroom blackboard was buckled rendering it practically useless. At a black school in an urban Mississippi setting, the principal invited me to spend time during which the students took the survey distributed by teachers in his closed office. He shared with me how careful he needed to be in conversations with his cleaning staff because the principal remarks could be shared with white school administrators. While walking on the wooden sidewalk in a Mississippi community, a black man who walked toward me crossed the street to avoid encountering me, I thought presumably because I was not black.
Recruiting college faculty was often still quite informal in the mid-1960s. Two members of the Sociology and Anthropology Department at the College of William and Mary happened to include the Chairman, R. Wayne Kernodle, who is still active at 95, Edwin Rhyne who just passed in July this year, and Nancy Gates Kutner. Nancy arrived at William and Mary a year ahead of me. Wayne asked her about anyone she knew at Chapel Hill who she would recommend from among five names he had received from the department. She recommended me because a high priority was for someone to teach social statistics, a course required of all sociology concentrators. Sociology was then the third most popular concentration at the college. I told Wayne that if asked to join the department, it would need to be soon as I had already received an offer to teach at another institution.
Happily for me during a five-year span several members of the department took positions elsewhere. I could expand my teaching areas beyond introduction to sociology, statistics– both introductory and advanced (resulting from the establishment of the M.A. program in sociology, then in 1968 becoming separated from Anthropology), and population studies. Eventually, I would also teach Blacks in American Society, Sociology of Education, an Interdisciplinary course entitled The Sixties, a new course I created, Becoming Americans, which concentrated on newer immigrants arriving in the U.S. from both the Eastern and Western hemispheres as a result of the 1965 Immigration Law. Among my favorite courses to teach was Advanced Sociological Theory, a course that substantively built on Richard Simpson’s European Sociological Theory course. Since I was the longest serving director of the M.A. program in sociology, I got to teach the course I most wanted to offer. Knowing that many young talented sociologists were seeking jobs (I served several terms as chair of the Personnel Committee), I decided to retire in 2002 at age 65.
One of the Sixties legacies at Chapel Hill, was to remain an activist in the community. Dick, Tad Blalock, other faculty and several sociology grad students spent time participating in practically daily civil rights marches especially during summer of 1963 and going to listen to colorful notables in the civil rights movement. It was a tremendous privilege for me to see Pete Seeger filling Memorial Hall, to hear Malcolm X address an overflowing audience shortly before his death, seeing black students seated in the front roll sit up and leave with the first insulting remarks spoken by Governor Ross Barnett.
In a tiny way, I lived some of the other great historical moments that affected me personally. A biggie was the U.S. Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia (1967). My fiancée, Jeanne Abbott, heard the outcome on the car radio when she suddenly cried out: “That means we can marry in the state.” We were married in 1968. Anxious to pursue the PhD in sociology, she was admitted to the graduate program at Chapel Hill and we lived apart a couple years during which time she completed most of her course work. She received excellent statistical training under Tad Blalock, which was critical in her becoming employed by the National Center for State Courts, where she worked until she died of cancer in 1985. I married again in 1987 to Carolyn True, a cradle Episcopalian, who also wanted to travel. We became a blended family with her two daughters and my daughter and son. In 2007, I was confirmed and baptized as an Episcopalian. The next year we joined fellow church parishioners on a pilgrimage to Israel. At the Diocesan (Diocese of Southern Virginia), I’ve been chair of the Anti-Racism Commission and now serve on a follow-up group named Repairers of the Breach. I am currently a vestry member simultaneously serving as Junior Warden. It’s the second highest lay position at the parish level.
Finally, to close, my daring to pursue life outside the confines of Southern California has taken me into wider American society and the activism that began at Chapel Hill has opened up a sense of citizen participation using sociological insights and skills, hopefully to further continue dreaming of being a part of a better nation and world.
Two years ago, Carolyn and I decided to downsize so we now live in a 55 and over single-floor condominium development. If you wish to contact me, my U.S. Mail address is: 3108 Pristine View, Williamsburg, VA 23188. Email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org. Land line phone: 757-208-0440. Cell: 757-707-0624.
Submitted August 2015