I recently had cause to interview a teacher
Elementary school where I went to district back in the day.
In 1964, the school was predominantly white
- a direct reflection of that neighborhood of that time. A handful of us
crossed 7 mile to participate in district band which was an aggregate of the best public school musicians from around the
district. I played B-Flat Coronet and was the only Coronet/Trumpet player
representing my elementary school. I was also only one of two black boys
in the brass section. It was not coincidence that I was assigned to 3rd chair. Anyone that has played in a large band knows that third chair players have very small parts to play. It was defeating, as 10-year-old, to have such a minor role in such a prestigious
When I got back to school and reported to the music
teacher that his best and brightest had been relegated to the back of the musical bus, he immediately switched me to B-Flat
Baritone-an instrument a little smaller than a Tuba. I did not understand his
strategy until I returned to district band. My role in the composition of the
band changed immediately. As one of two Baritones, I was an integral part of every composition. I played an instrument
that few had mastered. I came to understand much later that our white band teacher
knew full well what we talented young negritos would encounter at district band and had devised a strategy that ensured
our collective successes. Several of my band members from our beloved Courville
Elementary went on to be successful professional musicians. I gained a lot of arm and shoulder muscles from lugging
that humongous instrument around for two miles at time, right at the onset of puberty.
A year or so before I earned a chair at district
band, I was involved in a short lived after school science club. Our science
teacher Mrs. Evans was a very stoic soul who would pontificate about the virtues of science like a professor at a university
while never bothering to demonstrate the practical aspects of it. That particular spring,
she was able to purchase an atom smasher for the school. I remember how
excited she was the day she brought it to the classroom. Despite her enthusiasm,
she unpacked it and placed it on the shelf without as much as a demonstration or an explanation as to why she got so moist
after obtaining it. I guess she assumed that 9-year-old black children should
know what an atom smasher was from watching Mr. Wizard.
A few weeks
later, we began the after school science club. As I recall, we talked a lot about
things like why leaves changed colors, hibernation of animals and basic shit like that.
When we arrived for our third session, the atom smasher was sitting on a table unwrapped and ready for use. Mrs. Evans sat us at a table across from the device. She announced
that she had invited some students from Marshall Elementary
to attend that afternoon and left the room. Shortly thereafter, she returned
with four white boys about the same age as us. She ushered them past us and over
to the table where the atom smasher was placed.
Mrs. Evans spent the next hour or so playing with
the atom smasher with ‘her’ guest. We talented young negritos sat
there in awe as we watched our somnambulistic teacher transformed into animated scientist. When she switched on the
atom smasher we - the members of the Courville science club - must have been rendered invisible or temporarily transported to another dimension. We sat there transfixed, in stunned silence,
as if trapped in one of those drab fiftysomething black and white movies about classroom etiquette, only to look across the
room at a Technicolor scene involving our bright yellow teacher and four white students breaching the new scientific frontier. That was the last time many of us attended science club. We were wounded that day. It was one of the few times that I remember being wounded like that,
over the course of my public education. None of us endeavored to become scientist. One girl became a doctor but she was among several in her extended family.
I was well into my thirties before I understood
the role of atom smashers in science. The university I attended had the largest
one in the Midwest at that time. There has since been one created that is so large
that some fear it might create a black hole that could swallow the earth!
I wished that a small black hole had opened that
afternoon in the science room and sucked up that inconsiderate bitch that thought that only white boys could appreciate science!