I lived my own little stories in that time, as did any truthful American alive in the 1960s. On Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, we like to tell the big, familiar, uplifting stories, but maybe it is time to share the hidden ones. Here is one of mine.
In the fall of 1965, my small rural high school in western Connecticut was host to two African American "exchange" students who came up from Alabama. I realized much later that it must not have been much of an exchange, because no one from my school went down to Alabama. One of the boys had a great time -- prom king, all kinds of yearbook superlatives. The other — Ronald, quiet and bespectacled, had more trouble fitting in. He was in some of my classes, and we sometimes talked about school and books. In late September, there was a sock hop at the school, and Ronald and I danced three times -- fast dances, like the Pony, which was one of my favorites. But then he asked me to slow dance. I told him I didn’t know how. What I really didn't know how to do, at 16, was anything that my peers would have remotely frowned upon -- like slow dancing with a "colored boy".
There were so many times in Hidden Figures where someone explains, “That’s just the way it is”. Sometimes it’s said with a sense of comfort and justification, sometimes an uneasy apology. Sorry, Ronny. I really wanted to dance with you, but I was too chicken. And that is “just the way it was”. Some days I feel like I have traveled light years since then; some days I am not so sure. But I am working on it, every day.