Birth of a Social Conscience

By Jim Rogers, Editor

My social conscience was born when I was nine years old. Although I did not identify it as that at the time, the effect of a morning in the Fall of 1960 has stayed in my memory all these years.

It was the second week of school and new English grammar books had arrived. They were introduced to the class with such pomp and circumstance that one would have thought a newly inspired revelation had been given to change the course of mankind.

The old books were taken up and before the new books were handed out, the teacher gave a guided tour of what to do and not do with the new books. She stressed the “not do” more than what to do. “Don’t write, draw, or make any pencil or pen and ink additions in these,” seemed to be her theme throughout the presentation. It seems students had, in the past, desecrated the holy order of the English language.

The new books were pristine. No marks, faces, hearts, or markings of any kind were found. Just plain and simple usage of nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and all the other glorious steps to proper usage in language and writing skills. Okay, maybe it was a little less thorough for the age group but you get the idea. The old was bad and the new was good.

At recess, I watched as a well dressed man placed the boxes of old English books in the trunk of his well used car. I went to the teacher on duty and asked what the man was doing with the old English books. By that time in life, I loved books and would have liked to have had one for my own. However, that is not what the teacher thought.

She immediately comforted me in the knowledge that the man was not stealing the books. She said “They needed English books, too.” You see, schools were not integrated at the time and this man’s skin was darker than those who were administrators, teachers, or students at my school.

She pointed out that he was the principal at “their” school. I told her that was not what I meant in asking the question. My reply was, “But if those books are not good enough for us to use, how are they good enough for others to use?” Then I remember asking, “Don’t they deserve new books, too?” I was told to “go play with the other kids.”

As I wandered off to the swingset, I remember thinking that this is just not right. I have never changed my mind.

As a teenager, I was to take a trip to Alabama in the summer of my 15th year. The city to which I was to go was also expecting a “march” during the days I was set to be there. I was excited. My purpose for the trip had nothing to do with the march but I knew I would participate when I arrived. I never got there.

My parents began to realize that if I was there, they would probably have to wire bail money and that wasn’t something my dad knew how to do or would do for that matter. I was not allowed to go to the denominational meeting in Alabama that summer.

My disappointment was about not attending the march rather than not attending the meeting. I watched the news that showed the march, the chaos, and the arrests. There was purpose in that march and I wanted to be a part of the purpose.

Monday, January 17, 2022, a holiday, is one of the results of that march. The integration of my high school in the late ‘60s was a result of that march. My social conscience still cries out for equality in both justice and mercy for all. For a number of years, I carried a quote from a sermon preached by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I often read through Dr. King’s sermons now in my library. His enthusiasm, passion, courage, and faith have been an influence on the years of my life. But it began when the dignity of a principal of “their” school carried a few boxes of English books to put in the trunk of his car to carry to “their” school. Let’s stop the “their” and live in the “our” of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that comes from all having access, respect, and dignity.