I wondered how the racial tensions would affect Farrell, a tight-knit community where whites and blacks for decades had worked together, lived together, ate together, and shared that common bond of putting community first. While the effects, it turned out, were minimal overall because residents realized it wasn’t their own that were spearheading the problems, it did have some. Not on me, but for others, usually misinformed.
I remember vividly a conversation my dad had at the New Deal Club, where I would tag along and have soft drinks, chips and Slim Jims while he talked with the guys. As part of the conversation, I recall one of my dad’s friends telling him he wouldn’t support Farrell High’s fabled basketball program any longer. He gave his reason - he was told that one of the star African-American players was “helping to burn down my town.”
I’m not afraid to speak my mind as an adult, and as a teenager, didn’t back away from joining a conversation, especially when I knew it was filled with bad information. I was angry and told my dad’s buddy that he was wrong. He asked me how I knew. I told him because the player in question and I were on the front porch of my grandfather’s house watching the glow in the sky from the arson and listening to sirens from everywhere - two kids wondering what was happening to our town.
From that perspective - and my other experiences in Farrell where the bonds among most blacks and whites strengthened amid the turmoil throughout the country - the election of Obama less than four decades later supports the ideals of democracy. We’ll celebrate another milestone when the first woman is elected as president as well.
I’m concerned that in the various and polarized evaluations of Obama’s performance that the historical appreciation of his election has been lost. Fortunately, historians will get it right.
Jim Raykie is executive editor of The Herald and writes this column on Mondays. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org