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Black and White

My fourth grade, at Oklahoma City’s Millwood High School, like all the other grades, had three sections, ranked according to academic performance. By the fall of 1965, our second and third sections included quite a few African American children. The first section to which I belonged had one. Charles Tollett Jr., was one of the handsomest boys in our class, one of if not the most articulate, and the best dressed.

I got along fine with Charles, and from what I could see, so did everyone else, in class, at lunch, during recess. Until Bobby Dokes—fortunately I do not remember the boy’s real name—began to verbally berate Charles on the playground during afternoon recess. I was startled and confused, and the other boys appeared to be, too. There wasn’t any apparent background or provocation to what was happening, though even at the time I thought to myself, “I wonder if Bobby’s daddy doesn’t like Negroes and he told Bobby to act like this?”

Anyhow, the tongue lashing descended to the N-word. Bobby started chanting it at Charles, over and over, then looking around, clearly wanting the rest of us to join in. One by one, those gentle, sweet boys, blonde and brown and redheaded, began to join in the chorus, and grow as passionate as Bobby. I was stunned. Finally, Bobby and the others looked at me. I looked at Charles. He was crestfallen and I remember him turning to me as though I was his last hope.

That is when I regained my composure. Together, Charles and I proceeded to whip the stuffing out of all four of the other boys. What a blessing it has been through the years to humbly regale young people with that story of young Christian manhood and Christlike compassion and sacrifice.