Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Wick Fisher
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

We have a long way to go

Wick's World

 

January 11, 2018



In the early 1950s, I met a man who had moved into my neighborhood. His name was Charlie Geboe. He was the first black man I had ever seen, and although I was rather young at the time, I still remember Charlie at many of the sports events and often at the local swimming pool. I don’t know if he was considered a “novelty” by our small South Dakota townspeople or if I was too young to notice discrimination, but I grew up knowing Charlie as just another friendly, happy guy who went about doing his job.

A decade later, I found myself retrieving baseballs for a black man who became quite famous. Bob Gibson, who later went on to become one of the greatest pitchers in modern baseball, rented a room from our next door neighbors. He often could be found outside playing catch with his roommates. If I got lucky, the ballplayers would get a little wild, leaving me a chance to retrieve the ball. Sometimes I received a nickel or dime for all my work. Gibson stayed around Chamberlain for only part of one season. He played centerfield when he wasn’t pitching, often making spectacular catches and hitting long home-runs. By the end of the summer, Gibson was back playing in his hometown of Omaha, just one step away from the big leagues, while I was still retrieving baseballs for minor leaguers.

Over the years, a few more Afro-American ballplayers passed through our small town. Located out on the prairies of the Dakotas, Chamberlain fielded a team in the Class D minor leagues called the Basin League. I was a baseball fan from the time I could throw a ball. Having a minor league team in town, I spent my summers at Greig Athletic Field, either playing ball or riding my red Schwinn bicycle to a Chamberlain Chiefs ballgame.

This past August, my son married a beautiful young lady who, along with her parents and siblings, had long ago fled Sudan to find themselves in San Diego. We held our annual Christmas dinner there with our extended family. This year we got to invite our new in-laws. Since the wedding and the merging of our families, we have had several opportunities to spend time with each other. The week-long wedding began with a traditional Dinka Women’s Night of feasting and dancing. All of this was sponsored by the bride’s mother, sisters, aunties and female cousins and friends. I find it hard to put in words what happened that evening. You simply had to be there to believe it. The women’s dresses were stunningly beautiful long flowing gowns. The traditional food was not only as colorful as the gowns, many of the dishes were new to our palates. They were simply delicious. It was that very evening that I thought to myself, this year Martin Luther King Day will take on a whole new meaning for our family. I have always felt the road to ending discrimination is paved by interracial marriage.

The discrimination that I grew up with reared its ugly head in another form. Our ghettos were called reservations and our minorities were called Indians and a lot of other derogatory names. I was the only white kid enrolled at St. Joseph’s school where my mother taught the children sewing, beading, cooking and other life skills essential to survival in a society that wanted to throw them away.

Returning to Chamberlain 50 years later, I discovered the town school population was now approaching half Native American. When I was a student at Chamberlain, you could count the number of non-whites in the school on one hand. I only spent one year at St. Joe’s Indian School before I transferred to good old Chamberlain High School (“Hat’s off to Thee!”). Already at the young age of 4, basketball coach Byre saw the raw talent that would eventually land me a career in the NBA. I filled out the necessary paperwork that kept me from violating NCAA basketball rules and I landed a 12-year scholarship. Somewhere along the way I got side-tracked and needless to say, I never made the NBA.

Although Martin Luther King was a black man who led the civil rights movement, if you study the history of the '60s and the civil right era, you will find that Martin Luther King marched for all races and all people.

Over a half-century has passed since the riot-driven protests of the '60s that were fueled by racial inequality and injustice. Recently, a special election was held in Alabama. The candidate that once had very little chance of winning emerged victorious. This shows that we as Americans have taken some steps toward racial equality. One statistic from this special election does not bode well. One candidate was so openly racist that 99 percent of the black population voted "against" him rather than voting "for" someone. The message for this Martin Luther King Day should be this: We have a long way to go before we reach the mountain top.

 

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