Having visited Dayton again, I waken with a song from the seventies in my head: "A child is black, a child is white, together they grow to see the light . . ."
Sitting up in bed, I realize how hopeful those lyrics sounded when I was a teenager. In the seventies, truly it appeared that the ridiculous dichotomy of black and white was fading away. Nobody expected race to disappear; in fact, the expectation was that the heritage of black people would be more and more widely known and accepted.
In this present moment of remembering the hopefulness in that song, I recognize the terrible disappointment of 2015. With my mother, I once again drove through my old neighborhood and through the upscale neighborhood to the north. On the street where I have located a house important to my novel, I see that the place where my fictional house would stand is a wreck. It is between two other houses that are decently kept, in a neighborhood where on the same block, the pattern of decently kept versus overgrown repeats itself all the way up to Salem Avenue two or three blocks away.
The wrecked house is empty, with gaping windows and blue tarp sagging over rotting wood. It looks like a haunted house: a place that is made for human habitation, by humans, and that must be inhabited, even if by spirits of death after the living inhabitants have abandoned it.
With my husband and my mother, I drove through downtown Dayton. The old Wympee Burger building not far from the main library has at last closed. For a while it had new life as The Olive, an upscale creative sandwich place, but now it stands as empty and sad as the abandoned house -- though not so broken down. Many big business buildings in Dayton stand empty.
What happened to the wonderful hope of the mid-twentieth century?
Upon looking up "Black and White," the song whose lyrics came into my mind, I find it was written in 1954, a hopeful response to the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education that ruled "separate but equal" unconstitutional and mandated integration of schools. The Three Dog Night recording in 1972 is the one that became widely known. I was 18 in 1972 and that's why I remember it.
There has to be an overcoming of this sick disappointment. But I do see what David Stratman, author of We Can Change the World, means when he says that the problems in America are not even a race war. They are a class war. But the racial element has to be dealt with too.