Liberal 1/18/21

On becoming liberal.

My father was a Republican but never red-lined Blacks. My childhood neighborhoods were always very substantially integrated. He always took advantage of white flight. My sweet nice mother was always involved in our inner-city neighborhoods. She was the head of the PTA at our elementary school which was public and mostly Black.

An aside … The reason I went to Bache Elementary (in the dark shadow of the Eastern State Penitentiary – in North Philly). Even having the good income of two professionals but they were deeply scared - Depression Mentality. In Philly in 1950, all parents in our financial strata sent their kids to Friends Academy, very good but $500/year. Which they couldn't imagine spending.... My father earned that in a long day.

So my elementary school was very integrated. I grew up and lived with poor folks.

My Junior High School was so tough I'm still surprised I survived those 2 years on the Philly waterfront, but I did manage to lose an eye....

Then I went – completely by accident – to Villanova University. (That might be worth an aside.)

I hadn't gone to Catholic schools, we weren't very Catholic – my mother and father didn't like Catholic confession so you don't get much into the sacraments. My high school record wasn't good enuf to get me into U Penn, the school many of my classmated went/applied to. My influential HS guidance councilor had me applying to cute mediocre small colleges , like in Oregon. On a whim I drove to the Main Line, perhaps 10 miles to Villanova. I walked into the admissions office and they saw my mediocre, but from Famous Central High School, record. They accepted me on the spot. True story. I never filled out an application. Perry Como's son was there when I started.

Now Villanova was in the richest swanky-ist part of Historical Main Line Philadelphia. I could walk to Bryn Mawr College. Villanova's rolling substantial all-male campus offered me the opportunity to become a gentleman immediately Incoming freshmen learned that if you owned a tux, you would be invited to join stag lines for the frequent Deb parties – so I bought a tux my freshman year – so I hung out with the Pews and Chews of Philly - parties which recruited proper Villanova gentleman/boys who could dance. God bless Shipley Jr. College and Rosemont. True story – I bought my black tux from an undertaker. It was from a very select NY tailor. I was impressed when I moved to NYC on graduating Villanova.

College life was a Katherine Hepburn movie. I read Camus and lived Kierkegaard. I was on the debate team – we followed Yale's format of the three groups: liberal, moderate, conservative debating a topic pro or con and voting before & then after the debate, trying to sway a moderate. I debated as a conservative. And as a sophomore I campaigned for Goldwater against Lyndon Johnson. The Republican campaign even had me driving a flat-bed truck into Philly to speak for Goldwater. I recall the chant as I naively spoke off the back of the truck in Center City Philly, “Goldwater '64, No-water '65”.

Villanova was also a period in my life when I tasted everything offered. After the '64 World's Fair – the only exhibit without a line was the Mormons. So after the tour, I signed-up and I went thru the educational steps to join the Moran Church – read the Book and sat thru felt-board illustrated discussions with Mormons on their missionary year. And I raved, with the girls from Bryn Mawr about the Battle of Algiers. And listened to jazz and smoked bad grass. I sat in small smokey rooms with MLK's recruiters from SCLC and argued to get the university to allow Buckley to speak.

The day I graduated I got in my car and drove to NYC & got a fancy job on Wall Street. I had an apartment in Brooklyn Heights. A walk across the stone Brooklyn Bridge. A Black artist girlfriend charcoal-ed a mural on a wall whose window looked onto the bridge.


I was new to Brooklyn culture. A conservative friend took me to a John Birch Society meeting. I enjoyed the smoke and men. All I heard was the N word. All philosophy was reduced to red-lining. I went back to my Black girlfriend – lucky I didn't take her to the meeting. Conservatives are only polite on the Main Line.

Quit Wall Street after one year and went to Stony Brook as Vietnam raged. God Bless the Ivory towers of Academia. Finishing grad school I got a teaching job at Marymount Manhattan College. The college president happened to be Philip Berrigan's girlfriend. I had braids and played the fiddle in a folk group – Ed's Chosen Few. And was faculty sponsor of the Lesbian Pride group. And raised money for Oxfam. And joined the Catholic Resistance (to the War). Hung out at Iron Mountain with the Berrigans and Merton. That and the Pentagon Papers was the making of a '60s radical liberal.

My childhood made me acutely aware of my privilege. Being privileged and immersed daily with poor people, often Black, made me accutey aware of White privilege. Being happy made me want to share – fair's fair.