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home : insight & opinion : guest columns
September 17, 2019

9/9/2019 1:39:00 PM
At some point we must say 'enough' on compensation for discrimination
For the Daily News

I met Lyndon Johnson at the Palestine Labor Day Rodeo. He and Lady Bird flew in in a helicopter, kicking up a good bit of dust, and sat at the speakers' table out in the sun while local Democrats droned on endlessly about themselves and other things that didn't interest me. My mind wandered to chimps thumping their chests and screeching around while the big guy sat silent and waited his turn.

I was a Cub Scout, however, and saw them in a position of need sitting there, and so went up on the platform and asked them if they'd like something to eat and maybe a glass of tea. They said they would, and I fetched cornbread and beans for them and sweet tea and later some pie. This required a good deal of back and forth, and today someone would surely stop me, but I was in uniform (free admission for Scouts in uniform) and was tolerated.

When it was over, we went to the helicopter to wave them off. It was noisy and dusty as they approached and the machine had been started up and Lyndon held on to his hat with one hand and Lady Bird with the other. He spotted me in the crowd and stopped and came over and handed me something from his pocket, bending low so I could hear him say, "Come and see me..." as he gave it to me. I nodded and he left.

I liked him. I liked him less as time went on, but the first impression had been a good one. By the time he was President and Kennedy was dead a year, he signed the civil rights legislation that included funding of social welfare programs, job training and educational assistance for African-Americans.

This week is an anniversary of the enactment into law of that program. I don't remember it now because it was him, or because of what it was for, or because it was 1964, the same year the Beatles became popular and I was a sophomore at Robinson High School.

I remember it because it was the first time I heard a "billion" describing a number of dollars. I had no idea what that meant, but I knew it was a lot of money, and I knew that I was working at the time for a dollar an hour, so it was more than I would probably ever make in my lifetime. Surely, that will be enough to fix the problem, I thought to myself. Apparently not.

Despite half a century of "make it up to you" legislative programs and court rulings, our country is still divided over racial discrimination. We've added other discriminations to our public conscience to worry about, and we've now added a "T" word to the monetary nomenclature I hadn't heard before either - "trillion." That's the current projected deficit for our national budget. I used to worry about balancing my checkbook; I stopped writing checks.

Today we have as much outcry about reparations and what some people are owed for who their people are. Some think me liberal, while others think I'm conservative. I don't think a label fits here. Discrimination continues whenever one group is treated differently from others. I was persuaded early that this was wrong, and have behaved that way my whole life. I now have grandchildren in college. The colleges have admission criteria that treat some candidates differently than others. Some students we say were "disadvantaged" by society for who their people are/were/ might have been. The subsidy for their tuition and the cost of the colleges programs to assist them is born by taxpayers.

This will sound harsh to some, I am sure, but at some point we have to say "enough." I'm there. I won't/haven't/will not discriminate against anyone regardless of their race, religion, or choices about lifestyle. I came from a mixed background family that historically suffered discrimination, but we got no breaks for it and were expected to make our own way and be thankful we lived in a country were ability mattered more than who your people were.

I haven't won the lottery, but I live indoors and provide for my family. Happy Anniversary to those that benefited from the billion dollars given to help you this week in 1964. I hope it did some good. You will have a tough time persuading me now, however, that enough has not been done.

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