In high school race was hardly discussed as it was just assumed. The one teacher who broached the issue outside the conventional stereotypes did so within a frame of responsible stewardship. The most prestigious teacher in the school lived in Ferguson and took the street car which passed through Kinloch to school. He did some things to help the segregated Kinloch school like help stock the library. He urged us to bring books for the library. I was a lover of jazz so with my buddies I would go to bars with music. Although the musicians were black, black patrons were not allowed in white neighborhoods. With one buddy I would go to some of the venues in black neighborhoods where we would be the only whites.
Racial discrimination did not play much of a role in my life until I went to Amherst College in 1948. The year before one of the fraternities had pledged a black student, and as a result the local chapter was thrown out of the national. The event became a national story. In short, although the fraternity brothers strongly urged me to join this fraternity to help in its battle, I joined in another effort to get rid of the fraternity system altogether. I saw fraternities as a significant status perpetuator, not just on racial lines. This was the first social movement in which I engaged. By the way, we came close to beating the system. I learned a lot.
In the early 1950s big political issues on left were McCarthyism and the threat of atomic war. Paula and I met at an academic freedom conference that was organized by our left party which controlled the University of Chicago student government. She was a member of the U. of Michigan’s student government. Academically I saw the anti-imperial movements as having the greatest potential for changing the world, hence my dissertation topic. Not until the Montgomery boycott did I sense a real possibility of the black liberation movement moving things along. I took the initiative to get the Illinois Labor Youth League to organize an action.
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- Harold Baron, Email message to Lou Turner (Project Lead), 2016. ↵