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Nichols: Race, politics no longer at odds in US

POSTED: November 24, 2008 5:00 a.m.

The election of Barack Obama has changed race relations in our country and maybe for other countries as well.

Race has no place in the exercise of political power. Hitler tried to establish a master race, and of course, he failed. No race is the best. Individuals in various races are sometimes outstanding, as in our new president, or are failures, as in the hate mongers of the past.

During World War II, when I was in high school (white only in a separate but unequal situation in south central Florida) I was taught by friends and others that in our culture, blacks had a "place" that was inferior to that of the whites. We had separate schools, but the town library was only for white citizens, not black. And the taxpayer-built municipal pool was open only to white swimmers. No such facilities were open to black taxpayers.

I heard many angry comments when Marion Anderson, the African-American opera singer, was invited to spend a night in the White House because she was not staying her "place" and was bound to get "uppity" after such an honor.

Since I was a beginning musician, my parents took me to a jazz concert by Louis Armstrong who played for a white-only audience in the ballroom of a local hotel that would not let him spend the night in one of their own rooms.

My grandmother, who still had money not wiped out by the bank crash of 1927, hired a wonderful black woman named Lillian. She became our second mother who not only took care of us, but loved us as we loved her. She formed my basic attitude of questioning the racial segregation of the South. One day she brought her granddaughter for a day with us. She was about my age.

She asked a question that I could not answer: Why do white people get to drink cold water from the cooled water fountains, and we blacks must drink tap water that has not been chilled?"

That question started me on a journey to break out of the prejudice that gripped the South and some parts of the rest of the country.

One day in my high school social studies class, some two decades before Martin Luther King, the teacher made a prediction that came true when Obama was elected president of all the United States.
She said: "One day we will solve the race division by intermarriage with the best of the white ancestry and the best of the black coming together for a remarkable bridge between the races."

President-elect Obama is that remarkable bridge.

Tom Nichols is a retired college professor who lives in Gainesville. His column appears frequently and on gainesville times.com.



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