David Post: King’s inspiring words reached Salisbury

  • Posted: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 9:59 p.m.

Courage is when ordinary people are extraordinary.

The most courageous people I ever met, and admittedly never knew well enough, were the handful of 14-year-old African-American students who in 1963 chose to come to white Boyden — now Salisbury — High School rather than black Price High School. They chose to be strangers in a strange new place rather than be stars in a familiar place.

In 1954, Brown v. Board of Education decided that “separate education facilities were inherently unequal.” Salisbury didn’t begin to integrate its schools until almost a decade later. Sort of. In 1963, these few black students chose to attend white schools. Seven years later, black schools were closed and students were fully integrated.

But in 1963 Salisbury, it was a choice. It took real courage.

Four of those black classmates came to mind Monday at the Martin Luther King breakfast.

Clarence Harris passed away three weeks ago. He was a gentle giant who always recognized me around town with a smile, reminded me who he was, and told me to not worry about forgetting his name.

Another classmate, whose name I’ve forgotten, came to our 25th reunion picnic — but not the dinner — with this huge smile and asked us white kids to sign her yearbook. The questions surrounding that bother me still 20 years later. She’s the only black classmate I recall at any of our reunions.

Herman Anderson was a superstar student and athlete who excelled at football, basketball and track. Today, Herman is a doctor in New York City.

During my freshman year, Key Club selected new members. It was an honor. Herman was not selected.

The following year, our longest meeting was debating whether to offer him membership. We didn’t. Race was never mentioned. Race was the only issue.

Why is my memory so vivid? As a Jew, I had some understanding about how quiet — and deafening — discrimination can be. On the way home, the Kiwanis advisor, a close family friend who drove me there, and I talked about Herman. He said that I’d “understand later.”

At home, my parents and I discussed whether I should quit Key Club. I didn’t. It was easy, as it has been many times in my life, to be quiet and hide behind my white skin and blond hair. Herman couldn’t do that.

That spring, I was jogging around the track when Herman passed me. I started talking. He said, “Be quiet. You can’t breathe right and run if you talk that much.” Surely, he doesn’t remember that. I never forgot.

Linda Kelly graduated No. 1 in our class with a 4.0 average when that was the highest grade point average possible. Even so, she didn’t receive the recognition that others with lower grades (like me) got. She was also — and can probably sue me as being sexist for publishing this — drop-dead gorgeous.

Linda is a lawyer in Connecticut who has been a “mover and shaker” in the non-profit community at the local, state and national levels for years. After being a bank attorney, she served as a commissioner of the Connecticut agency that regulates utility companies. She is now the president of one of the nation’s largest non-profit foundations that oversees $750 million, more than a thousand funds and thousands of grants each year.

In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. declared, “I Have a Dream,” just days before school started. Did these young heroes decide to break the race barrier in Salisbury schools because of that speech? Why did they step out of their comfort zone? How do they remember those years?

“Connect ... connect ... connect,” Dr. Zinerva White slowly repeated at Monday’s Martin Luther King, Jr. breakfast until the 500 of us there absorbed his message and reached out to hold hands with the person next to us.

I called Herman and Linda today to “connect.” I left messages and hope to find them tomorrow.

In 1963, Salisbury had its own Martin Luther Kings.

David Post lives in Salisbury.

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