Marvin's Window: Looking back at desegregation in Georgia

I looked across the sage and mountains from my window thinking about Martin Luther King, Jr.

Day and my journey from white Eastern Oregon to rural Georgia.

It has been quite an experience.

That Oregon window in the 1960s included a view of all white faces.

We looked all over Oregon to find another small high school that had a black basketball player.

One of the teams we were scheduled to play in the district tournament had "one" and our coaches thought our kids should see "one" before the tournament!

How could I know that my children would be in Athens, Ga., in 1970 and part of the first year of integrating the local school system?

That was a long and unintended journey for a fellow born in Kansas where the 1954 U.S.

Supreme Court case ending school desegregation had originated.

Not much had happened between 1954 and 1970 to change schools in the South.

In 1970 President Richard Nixon sent marshals to Southern states and actual changes took place.

Few people remember that it was Nixon who took action to end school segregation and enforce the court ruling of 1954.

Governors had stood in the school doorways in Arkansas, Alabama and elsewhere to delay racial mixing.

I arrived in Athens with my family during the summer of 1970 with no experience or understanding of what was going on.

I was at Michigan State University and working in the Michigan Department of Education for the two years between Oregon and Georgia.

My office mate was a black educator from Detroit who was hired to give the state department a liaison to the black communities where we were planning area programs.

It took Bob and me a year to learn how to talk to one another.

He asked me to sit in with him during a visit of black community leaders who had come to Lansing to get our boss fired.

A black minister led the delegation.

Bob never went into a community without first talking to the black minister and the churchwomen.

He told the group I was going to be included and then shocked me.

Bob took a position so radical that the others in the room could be nothing but less radical!

I listened as he and the group talked all morning about the issues.

His negotiation skills were excellent.

Then he chastised the group for trying to strong-arm the state department,, and we all went to lunch.

What a lesson in black politics!

My family had no idea that we would soon move to Georgia for more lessons.

Bob had given me a little insight.

He grew up in Atlanta.

In Athens, my daughter worked on the high school paper during that first year of school integration.

When the students wanted a day out of school, they "instigated" a racial incident and were sent home.

The football coach was fired a couple of years later because he could not adjust to coaching an integrated team.

Two of the players on that team were the first to integrate the University of Georgia football team.

As local students they did not need to stay in the team dormitory and integrate that.

Both played in the NFL later.

A few years later, another rural Georgia black football player, Herschel Walker, brought the university a national championship.

We moved on to Columbus, Ohio, and I helped with integration of the local schools while on the OSU faculty.

I was still a naïve white guy from Oregon and did not know I was doing dangerous work.

A white professor doing similar work in Dayton, Ohio, was shot and killed.

We moved back to south Georgia in 1992, and my grandson attended an integrated school with no problems.

About a third of the students were black.

His great-grandmother had taught segregated classes in that school for years before retiring.

A black politician whose father had been president of a black college in Alabama now represents the area in Congress.

In 2000 both the Democrat and Republican candidates were black in a district that was 60 percent white.

I saw Georgia move from Gov.

Lester Maddox and his racist ax handles in 1970 to a very different place 30 years later with major shifts in attitudes.

Race problems still exist, but they are not the same problems they were when Martin Luther King, Jr.

was marching.

A civil rights museum in Albany, Ga., records that history.

This country has made tremendous positive progress over the past 40 years.

The journey is not over.

But, all should be encouraged by the positive changes.

I appreciate the journey I have made.

The experiences are priceless.