Let me share my story of enlightenment with you. I enlisted in the Navy in 1961 right out of high school. Being a white boy from a small town in Georgia, I was innately aware of the superior status my race enjoyed.
We didn’t go to school with Black kids in 1961. We merely crossed paths on the sidewalks while heading to our separate schools. Those times were filled with shoves and slurs as we navigated the sidewalks. The N-word was used frequently as we bullied our way on the sidewalks. There was little doubt as to who held the superior station in life.
Fast forward to the 1970s in Norfolk, Va. I was stationed there on shore duty. I was always interested in sports and had played football, baseball and basketball in high school. So, I signed up to play touch football in the base intramural league. That was where I met Albert.
Albert was a Black boy from a small town in Alabama with an exceptional talent for catching a football. I was a decent quarterback and could throw a football good enough. Albert and I quickly became good friends and made a credible duo on the football field.
Together with our teammates we won the base championship. Both on the field and off we became really close friends and gave our separate upbringing little thought.
One day we were talking, and race relations between Black and white came up. I asked Albert “what’s the problem?” Albert paused for a moment and then scratched his head and looked me square in the eyes.
“Jerry,” he said, “can I ask you a few questions?” I said sure, go ahead. He asked, “had I ever been denied a place to eat because of my race?” I replied no. He asked, “had I ever been denied a place to sleep because of my race?” I replied no again. He asked, “had I been denied the use of a bathroom because of my race?” Again, I replied no. He asked, “had I been denied use of a water fountain because of my race?” Again, my answer was no!
It was in that moment that I realized why I couldn’t possibly understand the plight that the Black man was being forced to undergo daily.
Wherever you are Albert Jackson, thanks for being a true friend and opening my eyes to the hardships and injustices your race face every day. My hope is someone will read this and be enlightened as well.
Gerald Shell, retired U.S. Navy chief warrant officer