In the 50’s Bridgeton’s citizenry seemed homogeneous to me. There were some ethnic neighborhoods–the Italian kids and the Negro kids all seemed to live within a few blocks of one another. I say Negro because that is how African-Americans were identified at the time.
Bridgeton had several grammar schools–neighborhood schools named for the street they were on. Tony Bacon, who comments here and I, went to Vine Street School.
The town had one high school where 25 big yellow buses arrived every day with hundreds of kids who lived on area farms and outlying communities–some kids were bused a dozen miles and caught the bus two hours before school. I walked three blocks.
The buses arrived on the first day of high school, and several of them unloaded 100 Asian kids, a few dozen Estonians, and a few Latvians. Those kids came from the town of Seabrook, a village adjacent to Seabrook Farms. I realized there must be a couple of ethnic neighborhoods I didn’t know about–a naïve notion remained uncorrected until my freshman year at Rutgers University. In Constitutional Law 101 I learned about the Japanese relocation camps. Californians know the names of many of these barbed-wire hotels. But in 20 years in California, I’ve yet to meet anyone who ever knew of Seabrook.
In ninth grade my locker partner was Eugene Morita. As high school seniors Gene was the business manager of the yearbook and I was his advertising manager. Gene went on to become a doctor of nuclear medicine and spent his career at UCSF. I looked him up twenty years ago when I moved to the Bay Area. We maintain our friendship with phone calls and dinner get-together every few months.
I am grateful for the accident of time and place where I grew up. At home I wasn’t taught to identify others by racial or ethnic identity. For the most part people in Bridgeton got along as people—long before diversity had its own name.