Friday, February 25, 2011

The High School Years

Over at Jeff Harre's blog, I'm Fluting as fast as I Can, I posted a comment on his note about going to the library. In that comment I mentioned the Zwaanendael museum. Here's a link to a picture of the museum.

We moved to Lewes, Delaware when I was fourteen, in 1959. Schools were still segregated. So was the town. When I got a job in the local news shop as a soda jerk I was told that (racial expletive deleted) were to come to the side of the counter and get their sodas to go. If one of "them" sat at the counter, I was to give them their soda in a take-out cup. "They'll get the message." My family lived one block away from the black ghetto where "they" all lived. We kids were not allowed to play with "their" children once we came of school age.

In my senior year, Gloria transferred from the black high school to my high school. It was 1962. She graduated with us in 1963. Lewes was officially integrated - by one young woman - with no fanfare and no violence. The violence was left for a town just north of us, to which anti-integration agitators were bussed in.

In the midst of it all, in Lewes, there stood this strange, beautiful building from another time, long ago, reminding us of when strangers from a strange land came to the shores of Delaware Bay and founded a settlement - The Valley of the Swans, Zwaanendael. Reminding us that none of us is native to this soil and that not one of us has a leg to stand on when we declare some not to be as human as we, or others have no legal right to be here. We were all, at one time, strangers in this strange land, and we ripped others out of their native soil to be slaves in this land, and we have treated each wave of immigrants to these shores as though they were the enemy, and as though we ourselves were never immigrants.

Such a beautiful name, Zwaanendael, Valley of the Swans. A beautiful name for a truly, still, beautiful place, on the shores of Delaware Bay. Founded by immigrants who had no right to these shores, but who came here anyway, and settled, and disappeared, to be replaced by other immigrants who also had no right to these shores, but who came here anyway, and now, here we are.

I could wish we were more open, more welcoming, more truly free. I could wish we believed that the words of the Declaration of Independence pertained to all people who come to this land: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Not some men, and women and children, but all.

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