I pulled this pic from an old file of memorabilia from my Swarthmore, PA upbringing. Guess what stands out?
For me, at least, race and death. The one black individual who was a stalwart teammate lived in a tiny "ghetto" on the edge of town I rarely visited. My two best friends - athletes both - passed away, one just a month or so ago. I know when they died, but I'm not sure if Russ Jones, number 44, is dead or alive.
Certainly alive and well in Swarthmore were race matters however you cut them because race mattered hugely, as did matters pertaining to race. The title of Cornel West's book Race Matters captures it both ways - perfectly.
I learned about race in my home - two black women in particular come to mind. Both were powerful in their own way and taught me a thing or two about toughness as they navigated their responsibilities under the employ of Rita Pierson. Then there was the basketball court. We were regularly beaten by the all black team from rival Darby as our ninth grade coach (Dick Bernhardt) relentlessly debunked my evasions and excuses.
The whole race scene was topped off by events at the Swarthmore Swim Club. That's where my brother and I spent most of our summer days until the club board flipped out over concerns that the new black kid in town, Reggie Harvey, might piss in the pool. Liberal white preachers didn't do well with this one. My parents and the Swarthmore Meeting did - by boycotting the club and lining up behind the Harvey family.