Lessons from my Father, Part 2

I grew up in Greenfield, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee. Our school district was separate from the Milwaukee County system. There was very little diversity. There were two African American students in my high school of around 1500. (Yes, you read that right, Two.)

My grandparents lived in Barron County, Wisconsin. Their view of the world was sometimes a little more confined. I remember times when we visited them, and Grandpa would talk about “those damned niggers.” And when he did, Mom and Dad would always fuss, and say, “Not in front of the kids!”

I was really confused about this. After all, I had experienced very little interaction with anyone whose skin color wasn’t lily white like mine at that point in my life. A few years after my dad’s passing, I asked Mom why Dad had that reaction to Grandpa’s remarks. She said, “Oh, Dad played jazz with them,” referring to the African American musicians with whom he played jazz. 

On a day like today, the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, I am grateful for a lesson learned. And thankful that jazz helps to bridge the divide between the races. At least for me.

Thanks, Dad.

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