Friday, January 12, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 1: At Flushing H.S., 1964

Chapter 1: At Flushing High School, 1964 (ii)

I fell helplessly in love with Rona the year before I went off to Columbia. Rona was a National Merit scholarship finalist who seemed love-filled and was quite popular. She was also a first clarinetist in the high school band; and she seemed like she would make a great companion. But I found it impossible to transform our casual acquaintanceship into a love affair, although we were thrown together occasionally around the high school for eight months. Another thing I liked about Rona was that she wasn’t into dressing up too much when she was outside the school building; and, instead of just wearing dresses and skirts, she also wore slacks in the early 1960s.

I first noticed Rona in Spanish class. She was a year behind me in school. But the juniors who were honor students in Spanish were put in the same class as seniors like me who were taking their fourth year of Spanish. Rona spoke often in class and was one of the pets of the teacher. But when the teacher had his back turned during Spanish tests, she was willing to pass out the answers to multiple-choice questions to the students who sat in the back of the classroom.

We were both in the Human Relations Club of Flushing High School, which met every Friday afternoon. This was a new club organized by a young social studies teacher named Mr. Freedman, who came on to his students as a friend who really loved being with his students.

Each week ten women students, three men students and Mr. Freedman would discuss at the Human Relations Club meeting topics like racial prejudice, high school dating, politics, the press, TV shows, war and peace issues, anti-Semitism, education and miseducation at Flushing, religion and school regulations. We also gossiped about everybody else at the school.

In March 1965 we decided to hold a joint meeting to fight racial bigotry with the Jamaica High School Human Relations Club, and a meeting was scheduled for early May. As our contribution to the joint meeting, we decided to put on a play which would dramatize why it was stupid for young people to pick up the prejudices of the older generation.

I then wrote a one-act musical play, which attempted to expose the irrationality of bigotry, through satire and the use of musical comedy parody techniques. For instance, to the tune of “I’m A Yankee Doodle Dandy”, I had my main character—who was to learn, by the end of the play, that bigotry was an irrational thing to be into—sing “I’m a jolly, biased bigot, a biased bigot, do or die.” I think I was influenced somewhat by the That Was The Week That Was satirical TV show of that era and by Tom Lehrer satirical record albums. I felt racism could be attacked by using satire and humor and snickering. The white racists in the South and North at that time really seemed to be on the defensive, psychologically, and on the ropes, politically. In retrospect, I overestimated how effective the weapon of satire could be in attacking racism in the United States.

By the time I finished my anti-racist musical satire, however, Mr. Freedman had secured a script for a one-act drama in favor of brotherhood from the Anti-Defamation League [ADL]. (The ADL hadn’t yet become as hostile to the Black Liberation Movement then, as it would later become). Mr. Freedman, therefore, wasn’t open to even considering something more “way-out,” like my musical anti-racist parody.