If you could take a time machine back to the 1950s and spend some time with my family in the community in which we lived (Hamilton Township, New Jersey, right outside of Trenton) you would learn some important things about my family. My family took family quite seriously, as they did church and the larger community. We also paid closer attention to Rutgers than most people because my father and grandfather had gone there. Dad made Eagle Scout so we respected the Boy Scouts highly. We were also Episcopalians and took church quite seriously but very positively. We did respect people of other religions, though. Because Dad's Mom was Canadian, we also spent more time than most Americans visiting that wonderful country.
My first black friend was a boy named Arnie. We met when we were both 5 years old and started kindergarten. My parents encouraged that friendship as they did my friendships with other children I met in school and elsewhere. When Arnie and I turned 8 we were old enough to join the Cub Scouts. Mom and Dad started a Cub Scout den which met in our home every week. Arnie was one of the boys that I – with encouragement from Mom and Dad – recruited into our den.
Most of our family's vacations were oriented to trips to Canada because of Dad's family connections. In 1957 we took our first trip south. Why? 1957 was the 350th anniversary of the founding of the first successful British colony of Jamestown in what is now Virginia. That trip is where I first saw racial prejudice in action. At age 11 I knew that there were differences between men and women that caused there to be different restrooms for men and women. It was in Virginia that I saw separate restrooms for black and white and different water fountains for black and white. Partly as a result of that trip, I began to understand in greater depth what black people – especially in the South – were struggling to change, helped by white people such as my family.
The first famous black man who started changes in my life was Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. He inspired many of us with his leadership for civil rights and his commitment to nonviolence. His and others commitment to civil rights made a big impression on this son of Eisenhower Republican parents as did his commitment to nonviolence, especially when considering the behavior of groups like the KKK.
Something happened in October 1962 that caused me to take my first independent political position. That was the month of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I already had a better idea of what nuclear war would do to our country and world because of my growing knowledge of physics and aerospace technology. Influenced by the example of King, I became a Eisenhower Republican pacifist.
In more recent years I have continued to make black friends. One who has been significantly important to me is one Paul Roberts Abernathy. He was, until he retired a year ago, rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill.
When I moved to this area, I count myself fortunate to have met many fine people through the Capital View Library, Episcopal Church of the Atonement and Peacetimers Toastmasters. I look forward to growing relationships with the fine people I have met here.