Prejudice, discrimination and segregation have walked this earth since the beginning of civilization. We read about slavery, the mistreatment of the early Chinese workers, and internment of Japanese-American citizens right here in Arizona and the methods used against our native Americans. Is prejudice alive and well still?
Awhile back, an attractive, well dressed lady arrived at Sky Harbor. Still grieving from recent deaths of a father and husband, she had fled the severe, snowy winter of the Midwest for a few days with friends in the Valley of the Sun.
Born in Indianapolis, she had experienced intolerance and discrimination first hand because, you see, Joyce Patterson is black. Once when just a child and with her mother in a large department store, she saw people enjoying lunches at the cafeteria. Asking her mother if they, too, might do so, the reply came back, “No, child. That is only for white people.”
Another time, holding her mother’s hand she saw a father look her way, then bend over to whisper something into a small daughter’s ear. As Joyce passed by, she heard the man say, “See, I told you they were niggers.”
Then came integration and she and her brothers were sent to a white elementary school. “We cried because we did not want to leave,” she recalled. “We knew no one there and were mostly ignored by the white students.” Soon after, her mother removed the children and enrolled them in a private school. Joyce graduated from Crispus Attucks, a highly academic black high school containing more instructors with doctorate degrees than any other in the state of Indiana.
She trained to become a nurse but instead became an astute business lady, owning and operating three health stores in the Indianapolis area. One of her first customers brought his purchase to her and said, “I won’t be back anymore.” She inquired about the product or the service and he replied, “It’s because you’re black.”
My wife Ann and I met Joyce many years ago before moving to Arizona. She had called about piano lessons but feared rejection due to race.
Ann replied it was not an issue and a mutual friendship evolved. I, being in real estate, assisted Joyce in the purchase of land in a business area which she sold later at a profit; she used it to build a church. After many piano lessons, Joyce became the pianist. The church is open to black and white.
With Black History Month as a background, her visit came at a historical and appropriate time. It is good that names like Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King and terms such as integration, civil rights, tolerance and freedom are celebrated and taught during February. “It’s all better than it once was,” said Joyce.
Yes, lovely lady, thankfully it is. Visiting shops, restaurants and encountering SunBird residents, we heard no derogatory remarks. No eyebrows were lifted nor no double takes did we perceive.
Each generation seems to exhibit less prejudice than the former. But do we really have to wait another generation before we stop judging people on their color and begin evaluating them on their character and actions?