When I was integrated in the 9th grade, going from East to Central Jr. Hi, I was going to school for the first time since nursery school ( I went to Lucinda Cook for that, the laboratory school at Central State) at a building that I had to walk more than a few yards to get to. I did not know any white people except Ms. Mary Langan the district nurse who came to give us shots at school. It is a wonder I did not associate white folks with pain, come to think of it.
If we had a social event, a dance or a ball game at East I just had to walk next door, with my friends or with my escort. When we went to the white school, however, it became obvious that everyone could not walk to the dances and things. Especially the white kids who lived further out frequently than we did. We thought it was hilarious that their parents drove them to the dances and that they sat in the back seat as if they were being chauffeured. Most of us could not imagine our parents’ response if we had asked them to drive us and a date to a dance. Dances were our business and our parents did not have any involvement beyond buying the dresses or suits needed to attend and telling us to have a good time and what time to be home and what not to do while we were gone.
We also, until we were old enough to drive, walked to Cox Field to the high school football games. Xenia loved its football and the stadium would be rocking well before kickoff. It was a time to see and be seen, wear your blue and white and cheer for the home team. The fact that race popped up on the field in ways as varied as some black workhorse like Vicky Gray carrying the ball all the way to the two only to have to give the ball to a white guy to score the touchdown to the fact that all of the cheerleaders were white, did not detract terribly from the game. I do not remember a lot of mixing in the stands. The black crowd generally sat in the far left stands, which were closest to the entrance, not sure if that was symbolic or what.
Anyway, football Fridays were, after we started to drive, usually begun by a trip to Frisch’s Big Boy which was across the street from the stadium. Teenagers did not go in, we cruised around the drive-in part, hopping in and out of cars and pooling our money to buy food. There was not much racial mixing there either, as a matter of fact, black kids did not really start taking part in this ritual until I was a junior in high school, before that it was a white kid thing.
Xenia racism was, and perhaps is, rather unique. No one ever called me a name or denied me access to anything –the only two restaurants in town that were known to not want black clientele– The Candy Kitchen,aka “Dirty Greek’s” and Geyer’s were not on my list of places to want to patronize. If I had the personality then I have now I would have not only gone in them I would have organized demonstrations outside of them–that was done later at Geyer’s but by CSU and Antioch College students for the most part.
Anyway, I digress, blacks did not do certain things in Xenia, like the Frisch’s custom not because we were told we could not, but because there was a tacit understanding that we would not be welcome. As long a it did not come down to an actual confrontation where all doubt could be erased as to whether bias was at play both blacks and whites could pretend there was not bias. When I hear some older white people today longing for the good old days I think that is what they are longing for, that gentleman’s and gentlewoman’s understanding that, yes, this is unfair and biased, but we can live with it, no need to cause unrest.
By the time I got integrated social functions that were school related, whether it was sports or dances were not segregated, at least not per se. When we got to XHS we had the delightful opportunity to go to a dance-not formal, but a dance, at the YMCA after each home basketball game. It was almost comical in retrospect how the dances worked. I do not remember any interracial couples dancing. The music varied between “white” music like the Beach Boys and “black” music like the Motown Sound. They would play a Beach Boys song and the white kids would dance, then they would play something by the Supremes and the white kids would retreat from the dance floor and the black kids would dance. Frequently the white girls would have to dance with each other on the fast songs since many, if not most of the white boys would not fast dance. They would, of course, slow dance, doing their version, which we called “the pump” because of the way they stuck their arms out and held hands as they swayed. Black kids slow danced with our arms around each other, no “pump” involved. Late in my high school years some white kids would dance to the black music too and as dances like the Watusi and the Monkey and others finally got to Xenia there was some mixed dancing to each other’s music and even on rare occasions mixed race couples dancing.
The dances were well attended, but not always as faithfully as the parents might have hoped. After all, the YMCA is a wholesome place and the dance was a way to provide something to do to keep us out of mischief. To quote or paraphrase Chaucer, and later Cotton Mather ” idle hands are the devil’s playground.” What the parents did not know, however, was that some of my classmates used the dance as cover for more racy activities.
Couples looking for some private time together would check in at the dance and then sneak out the back door to either sit in a car, or since in this era not everyone had a car at their disposal, walk a block to Shawnee Park and find a bench or tree to serve as a spot for necking. That way they had at least a couple of hours away from the prying eyes of adults to enjoy some of the more carnal pleasures of adolescence.
Several of my female classmates would draft me, or other girls, to help them with cover. Because teenagers with cars were not as common as they are today, as I previously mentioned, and because not all of us were old enough to have a driver’s license, parents were still required to pick up their children if they lived too far from the Y to walk home.
Many times I had to try to convince an impatient father that his daughter was in the bathroom when she was actually hurrying back from the park or parking lot, hair a mess and grass stains on her skirt. Fortunately, the girl’s bathroom was near the side entrance. If someone could be recruited to open the door for you it was possible to scoot in, go in the bathroom ( father’s understandably did not hang out in the corridor near the girl’s bathroom) and tidy up a bit and then go meet their father with a smile on their newly washed-in-the-bathroom-sink-face.
If, as sometimes happened, the young Romeo and Juliet happened to be of mixed race–this was almost always white girls and black boys– I only know two of my black female classmates who had white boyfriends, one of them openly the other secretly as was the norm, the need for secrecy from parents was even more crucial.
Ah, YMCA dances, the intrigue, the music, the romance, the cliques, those were the days!
We also had formal dances, of course, the Snowball, our winter semi-formal and the big deal the Prom! I got to go to prom three times, my sophomore, junior and senior years since my boyfriend, now my husband, was two years older than me. I loved it all three times. We wore gowns and long gloves to the prom. When my daughter picked out a dress for her senior prom that did not make it to her knees I almost fainted. Anyway, I wore a turquoise gown with a train edged in rhinestones to the prom my sophomore year, there was another girl there in the same gown in light blue but she was not one of my circle so I did not really worry about that much. My second year I made sure, I thought, that nobody would have on my dress, I bought it when we were visiting relatives in Philadelphia. It had a white lace bodice, an apple green satin sash and a yellow chiffon skirt. Janine B. had on the same dress at the prom and she was tall and slim ( I was neither) and looked much better in it than I did. The last prom dress was pink chiffon, sleeveless ( I did not have my arm “wings” then) and with a bell shaped chiffon skirt. Long white gloves and pink heels finished the ensemble.
Because of peer pressure I wanted my hair to look special for the prom. You knew the popular girls because they all got out of school early to go to the hairdresser. It was highly prized to have your name appear on the early dismissal list, that meant you had a date and were going to the prom. I never went to the hairdresser. Since I had what was called “good hair” in the black community, meaning my hair was curly but did not need to be straightened, I had no need to go to the black beauty parlor with its open flames and hot combs. In my desire to make the early dismissal list I decided to try a white beauty parlor for my prom “do.”
I had asked on the phone if they did black people’s hair. There was a silence, then the woman asked me what I wanted done. I told her washed and styled only and she said for me to come on in. I arrived and she was obviously relieved to see my hair, which was long, about mid-back and wavy, but not nappy. She washed my hair and then proceeded to pile it into a truly impressive bee hive, which was one of the popular formal hair styles of the day. For the first time I had someone put hairspray on my hair, and I have to admit it not only looked good, because she sprayed it so much it stayed in place!
The prom was fun, a great opportunity for ethnographic study, although I did not know that term then, I still did it!
Tomorrow” Xenia Stories part V: Prom decorating committee, the after prom, working at James’