“You got the complexion and the connections”


In my only meeting with Muhammad Ali that quote is what he ended the conversation with.

We were meeting at Pelosi’s restaurant in Oakland, California, where the local boxing promoter was trying to get an exhibition bout to benefit the Navy fund…..Ali had refused to go into the army and was blacklisted everywhere (no pun intended), and although I had both of what he described, I could not make that happen.

I guess I would like to think today, almost 50 years since President Johnson, in John Kennedy’s name, had managed to get the Civil Rights act passed that  the complexion would not be an issue.  And it really isn’t with most of the generation born after the seventies, except those who walk around with a piece of hay in their mouth.

I am two generations removed from most of you, so let me tell you what it was like with racial relations growing up in the Northwest – Portland, Oregon to be exact.

Coon Chicken Inn. Image originally from Shoreline Historical Museum.

There really weren’t any.  We virtually never saw a black person (it changed in the early forties when Henry Kaiser brought in a labor force from the south to build Liberty ships).  Of course when we kids were dividing things:  “Eeny meeny miny moe, catch a nigger by the toe”, and Brazil nuts were known as nigger toes and our favorite restaurant was just three blocks from our house, on Sandy Boulevard just across from the Hiway theater which my dad owned.  The fabulous Coon Chicken Inn; you entered through an oversized Sambo face with exaggerated lips and bug eyes……Really.

So it was ingrained into us, living in the tolerant north.  And in movies there were the maids, the servants, “Stepin Fetchet”  (yes, boss, I sure does).  And the real heroes like actor, and wonderful classical singer and all-American football player at Harvard, Paul Robeson (sang “old man river” in the original Showboat and in movie), was ostracized because he was for human rights, called a communist and driven out of the country.

And when I started high school in Skokie, Illinois, and drove past Harms Woods where the army had built a camp for German prisoners of war who were waiting to go back to their homeland, and they would be seen in local restaurants which did not allow African-Americans..  And our soldiers were segregated until Harry Truman (a white Southerner) ended that during his Presidency; still they were given the terrible assignments: building the Alcan highway to Alaska, loading live ammo onto ships in Contra Costa county California, and of course there was an explosion and several hundred died.

Vote. Illustration by bredmaker from stock.xchng.com.

This is all in my lifetime.  So let’s not fool ourselves about our country.  Whether you like him or not, Barack Obama is one of the most rational and intelligent Presidents we have known.  And he handles the insults and put downs with such dignity.  How dare that governor point her finger in the face of our President; and that Congressman from Illinois who shouted “you lie” during the State of the Nation speech; and that idiot Trump asking to see his “diploma”…….imagine the outcry if he was 100 per cent white instead of “just” 50%.

And he has the good humor to go on David Letterman and when asked about how he feels about Trump, he replied “Oh he’s all right; you know we grew up together in Kenya”.

So “anyone but Obama” means anyone but that Negro; we know that.  And the awful part is we are suspicious that our friends who are politically different from us are really racists….Isn’t that sad.

I think Mitt Romney is a good decent family man; but he seems to have no moral compass.  I am voting for Barack Obama because in spite of all the garbage thrown around, he is best for our country at this time.

2 comments on ““You got the complexion and the connections”

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