Stories about life in Liddonfield housing project and its impact on the Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood of Upper Holmesburg. These true stories reveal how government policy affected the lives of real people, from the project residents to area homeowners during the 5 decades of Liddonfield’s existence. Stories and articles are written by a former resident of the project.

FIGHT THE STIGMA!

FIGHT THE STIGMA!
Rosemary Reeves, Blogger, standing on Philadelphia Skyline

Jul 25, 2012

Part 3 of A Housing Project Kid's Story of Race in 1960s and 70s NE Phila

 If you missed part one of this series click on the link below:


by Rosemary Reeves


In June of 1969, J. Edgar Hoover said that the Black Panther Party was the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.   Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was making speeches and holding rallies in Chicago.  He encouraged other blacks to rise up against the oppressive American government.  In one of his speeches he told his followers, “You are a revolutionary!”  Hoover vowed that 1969 would be the last year the Black Panthers existed.  In December, police held a raid at Fred Hampton’s apartment and fired 99 shots.  Fred Hampton was killed while he was sleeping.  A Grand Jury found that police had lied about what happened during the raid, but their discrepancies were insufficient evidence to charge them for violation of civil rights.  

By September the new school year began at St. Dominic.  In Sister W’s history class, we learned about the Founding Fathers who fought against their British oppressors in defense of liberty during the revolutionary war and how they drew up the Declaration of Independence.  George Washington was a revolutionary.  Thomas Jefferson was a revolutionary.  John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams were revolutionaries.  They were immortalized in museums, in literature and in song.  American history taught us that sometimes revolution was necessary, righteous and justified.  It was even in the Constitution that oppressed men had the right to overthrow an unjust government.

Sister W said, “Put your books away, children.  Today, we’re going to play a game.”  The whole class cheered.  “Settle down, now, children!” said Sister W.  We tried to subdue our jubilance as we stashed away the boring history textbooks with stories about men who had stern faces and wore powdered white wigs.  Sister told everybody with blue eyes to go to the back of the classroom, while the brown-eyed students were to sit at the front.  It was a strange thing to do, but we went happily along with it, eager to play the game.  Sister had a bag on her desk and we all wondered what was in it.  After we were in our new seats according to eye color, she pulled candy and cookies out of the bag.  

Everybody in the class was smiling and happy.  We were going to have candy and cookies!  But then something happened that no one expected.  Sister said the tasty treats were only for the brown-eyed kids.  The blue-eyed kids could not have any.  A hush fell over the room, penetrated by startled gasps.  “But why?” asked one of the students.

Sister replied, “It’s all part of the game.”  Suddenly, I did not like this game because I had blue eyes.  The kids in the blue-eyed section watched in dismay as our teacher handed out the candy and cookies to the lucky brown-eyed kids.  All we could do was hungrily lick our lips and wait for Sister to tell us she was just kidding.  Instead, she pulled more fun stuff out of the bag.  This time it was coloring books and crayons. 
“Oh, she’s going to let us color with crayons!” the girl sitting next to me remarked.  Frowns were turned into smiles in the blue-eyed section, but that did not last very long because Sister let us know very quickly that the coloring books and crayons were reserved for the brown-eyed kids.  Now, we were slumping in our seats, folding our arms and pouting.  Every time we asked why she was doing this to us, Sister repeated that it was all part of the game.  

For the entire school day, Sister favored the brown-eyed children over the blue-eyed ones.  They sat at the front.  They got the best of everything.  Their needs and wants took priority over ours.  They were showered with praise while we were ignored.  By late afternoon, I began to hate my blue eyes.  I began to wish I had brown eyes instead, not just today and not just for the treats, but for the rest of my life because it had started to seep into my brain that brown-eyed people were indeed superior somehow.

Shortly before it was time for class to be over, Sister W revealed the meaning behind it all.  “Children, I made you play this game to teach you about prejudice,” she said, “I wanted you to experience for yourself what it is like to be discriminated against, to be treated as less important because you belong to a group of people who look a certain way.”  Finally, the game was over.  We talked about prejudice while Sister handed out to the blue-eyed students the long awaited candy and coloring books she had been hiding in her desk drawer.  She said she picked the blue-eyed students to be the objects of discrimination because they were in the majority.  The brown-eyed students had been lucky, but she hoped they would have learned something from the experiment as well.  Some of them said they felt bad for us.  Some of them wanted to share with us, but were hesitant to question the rules.

On the way home from school, my brain was still messed up from the prejudice game.  I kept expecting people to say, “Send that blue-eyed girl to the back of the bus!”  It was a week before I snapped out of it, before I realized once more that it was okay to have blue eyes.

Part 4 of this series will be posted on Monday, August 13, 2012. 

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