restricted access 22. Encounters of the First Kind
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~ 22 ~ Encounters of the First Kind The movement wanted to be both strategic and expressive, political and cultural : to change the world (end the war, win civil rights) while freeing life in the here and now. Sometimes these poles were compatible, sometimes not. The idea of the youth revolution was an exercise in finessing the difference. —todd gitlin, The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage O ne night that July, several of us were sitting around the kitchen of the house on Meridian Place when we heard a loud scraping and grinding noise and the unmistakable sound of muffled voices. Steve looked out the window toward the back parking lot. “It’s the group of kids who are always prowling around. Looks like they’re pushing our Plymouth across the lot. C’mon.” I followed Steve outside. I knew the group he was talking about—black boys from about thirteen to sixteen, always hanging out on door stoops, sneering, watching, waiting for trouble. I’d often wondered what they thought about us—blacks and whites a little older than they were, obviously middle-class, moving into their neighborhood, living together. Did they resent us, or were they somehow afraid and trying to cover it up by acting cool and uncaring? As we slowly approached the car, Steve hollered out, “Hey, what are you doing?” They all ran. “They’re probably going to that apartment building the next street over,” I said as we walked up the drive. It seemed darker than usual outside, and there was no moon. I looked at Steve. “Let’s go.” We ran though an alley that cut across the block and then walked slowly up to the building where we knew several of the boys lived. We couldn’t see anything until we were right on top of them so suddenly that Steve and I both jumped. 194 the education of a black radical “Hey, what’s up?” I said, trying to sound nonchalant. About eight boys were sitting on the porch steps or standing nearby. None of them said a word. “I’m D’Army, and this is Steve. We live in that big house a block over. You know the one?” A couple of the kids nodded slowly. “Do you all know what we’re doing here? Do you know why we’re living in this neighborhood?” “Naw. Why don’t you go on back where you came from?” “We don’t need you around here, man.” “What do y’all think that we’re just some kind of experiment for y’all? We ain’t no guinea pigs, man.” Their voices were raw with hostility. Even so, I was determined not to let it phase me. I was going to talk to them like human beings. “We’re not treating you like guinea pigs. Most of us have been working in the civil rights movement all over the country. We know what’s going on. We came here to work because the community needs help. We’re in this together.” “No, we ain’t. Y’all from someplace else. What y’all think you gonna do for us?” “Look, we all want the same things, don’t we? We want to be treated fairly. Isn’t that right?” No one moved. “That’s what we’re doing over there in that house. We’re a bunch of kids just like y’all trying to help all of us get the things we want in life.” “Like what?” “Like good jobs and a future where you can choose what you want to do and go where you want to go.” “How do you do all that?” “You a magician or something?” Several of them started laughing. “No, we’re just going into junior highs and high schools and tutoring kids so when they graduate they can get better jobs, make more money, and live better lives. And we’re going around to different companies that aren’t hiring blacks in good positions, and then we’re protesting, marching, and getting them to change. We’re standing up for our rights and your rights.” “Really?” “Naw, man, no way.” “I sat down on the porch steps with them, and Steve leaned against the railing. I hadn’t known whether or not this approach would go over, whether they would respond to reason or become aggressive. But the more I talked, the more they seemed to loosen up and lower their defenses. I realized...


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