3.4 Looking Backward-6, Diversity

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.

7 Responses to 3.4 Looking Backward-6, Diversity

  1. Colleen Rae says:

    That’s the way people should get along…as just people.

  2. Colleen Rae says:

    I recently went to my 58th HS reunion in Chicago. Back in the 1950’s we were a unique HS in Hyde Park on the south side of Chicago where we seemed to accept people for who they were. Cynthia Cole was our class president, an African American, even though most of the students were Jewish. She came to the Senior Prom with her Jewish boyfriend.No one thought that unusual. I found out at the reunion she had died early in life; sadly, as she had so much promise and talent. I ran into two of my ex-boyfriends, one, Manfred Greenburg is now the CEO of a manufacturing company, the other an architect. Manfred and I used to do our homework on the floor of his mansion while the maid fixed dinner. Everyone in our school accepted each other for what they had to offer. There was much diversity before it was fashionable. So I know what you mean, Al.

  3. Alan stowell says:

    Hola Capitan!
    Very interesting reading about your youth!
    BUT I still consider you the BEST yacht broker, the BEST sailboat broker, the first gringo to win the tough around Puerto Rico regatta, and the guy that sold me my first sailboat Pearson Triton!
    Let alone the broker that OPENED Puerto Rico to the Pearson line of yachts and sold how many P-26’s? 50? 75?
    Your shorting your other readers Al by NOT opening up on that facet of your life!

  4. john miller says:

    Growing in Westmont we had a black isolated neighborhood too. I never met another black student until I was in highschool. My father in his work constantly used the word schwatze (sp) working for a Jewish owned transportation company, United News and the Sterns in Philley, But there was not a single Black working there. Our working class neighborhood block was divided in Protestant and Catholic. the two poorest families were Catholic including mine. My uncle down the street was a non observant Jew. And then there is the mysterious star of david on my grandmothers family crest from Germany, Kreschmann. My paternal grandfather was in the rags trade, underwear in Philley until a fire burnt him out and he opened a candy store, later a bar and restaurant where my grandmother cooked at 3rd and State in Camden. The bar still stands, one of few buildings in North Camden. Our origins are fascinating.

  5. karen wittgraf says:

    Growing up in South Minneapolis, my neighborhood was diverse with immigrants from Hungary, Poland and Sweden. I remember hearing people references these families as “DP’s” but had no idea what that meant. When we moved to “the suburbs” of the outer city, I became a minority because all children in my school seemed to be Protestant. I didn’t want to go to religion release time with the two other Catholics in my class, so went to the priest at confession and told him I knew someone that wanted permission to attend the Lutheran release time because she had no friends at the Catholic one. It was dark in the confessional, the little slide door opened, and the priest called me by name and said I must stay in my faith.

    • allevenson says:

      The Japanese at Seabrook were Relocated persons. The Estonians and Latvians were DPs, Displaced Persons. They were from countries that had been overrun by the Nazis and found asylum in the US. They found farm work as migrant workers. The Japanese were near-slave laborers. They were provided shacks and shanties and (my imperfect memory says) the pay was a dollar a day. The upside of the story is these people chose to do something where they had work, a home, and useful work rather than stay in the California camps where none of this was offered. There was a similar program in Canada where the Japanese were also rounded up. Many stayed in camps in the western provinces but some were able to work in the mines of central Canada.

      There must have been a high tide of fear existing in this country after Pearl Harbor to have driven such Draconian measures. And I wonder if anti-Muslim rhetoric is signaling the return of another isolation strategy.


  6. April Edsberg says:

    I bought the book Dandelion Through the Crack when Kiyo Soto presented the book to our writers Club.
    Her father and mother had a farm next to Mather Field. Her family had to leave their farm and their dog and go to an internment camp. She was an honor student in her last year of high school.The book has won National Awards and has been bought and renamed Kiyo’s Story.
    Her brother became a pilot and fought in Germany during WWII.
    I think you would really enjoy the book.


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