Ghosts of Jim Crow; F. Michael Higginbotham

“I spent most of my childhood and teenage years in some of the most exclusive communities in the country, Beverly Hills, CA and Shaker Heights, OH. I attended excellent public and private elementary and secondary schools, some of the top schools in the country. I went on to attend college and law school in the Ivy League, after which I spent two years studying at Cambridge University in England.

In all candor, my life has been, and continues to be, pretty darned good. Via experiences in Western Beaver County, Shaker Hieghts, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, Providence, New Haven and Cambridge, I learned that good neighbors come in all colors, as do bad ones. This premise has guided me through the difficult racial paradigm that continues. While my story reveals motivation for choosing to teach race relations courses, for writing this book, and for desiring to shatter the racial paradigm, the need to have new dialogue goes much deeper. This book is about helping Americans to live up to the promise of racial equality.”

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“In August of 1972, four years after black Olympic athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos had their medals rescinded as punishment for raising their fists at the medal ceremony in protest against racism in the United States and Africa I learned about the personal risks of challenging racism. At the end of my freshman year in (Beverly Hills) high school, during which I received Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards for freshman football and baseball (plus Beverly Hills Babe Ruth League), I had earned the right to be elevated and compete at the varsity level in my sophomore year as previous award recipients who were white had been. Yet, while white players, whom I had outperformed only months earlier, were promoted to the varsity level, I was not. In response to this apparent oversight, my parents met with the school district’s superintendent. Concerned that I had not been treated fairly by two members of the Beverly Hills High School Athletic Department staff, they questioned whether racism was involved. While the superintendent appeared sympathetic, he indicated that the athletic director had primary responsibility for making sure athletes were treated fairly. The superintendent arranged a meeting between my parents and the athletic director. At this meeting, the athletic director appeared angry, apparently due to the racism allegation. Rather than question his own conduct or the conduct of any member of his coaching staff, he instead spent the entire meeting denigrating my performance, ability and character. Even though we had team members who were earning low grades in academic courses, skipping classes, being placed on detention, drinking alcohol excessively, smoking and abusing drugs, I was labeled as the problem player with all sorts of negative connotations such as lazy, selfish and uncommitted, all adding up to an easily alleged but hard to define character flaw: a bad attitude. How could the two-sport MVP be the demon of the team the athletic director portrayed?

An invaluable lesson was learned that day: do not raise the possibility of racism, especially when it turns out to be true, unless you are prepared to make personal sacrifices to your status and opportunities. Otherwise, you may wrongly be labeled as uppity or a troublemaker, or in my case having a bad attitude. From the incident I learned first-hand some of the risks of challenging racism post Jim Crow. My parents’ allegation of racism led to a series of attempts by the athletic director to manipulate me into quitting the teams. Despite being verbally abused and placed in embarrassing situation, I refused to quit. What I found unconscionable, however, was that my athletic director never responded to inquiries about my abilities from college coaches. Early in my senior year, I applied for admission to three Ivy League colleges: Harvard, Yale and Brown. Although I had a solid application (high GPA and SAT score), in order to be competitive I needed extracurricular activities to set me apart from other qualified applicants. I hoped football success might make the difference. Despite objections by the athletic director, in my junior year I achieved a starting position on the varsity football team and was selected as one of the best players in the entire league (1st Team All League Defensive Back). During my senior year, as captain of the team and a returning all conference player, I thought the support of my school’s athletic department would be automatic. Yet inquiries (from colleges) regarding me remained unanswered. After receiving a letter from Yale’s head football coach expressing interest in my career, requesting game film of my performance, and informing me that his two previous requests to my high school athletic department had not been answered, I became very angry.”


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