Being white does not define me. I respect all people who are not my color. 

My best friends in the Air Force were two black guys, one from Wisconsin and the other from Puerto Rico. As a newspaper editor and publisher, I worked with talented black writers, photographers and editors.

I know that all lives matter, regardless of color or country. You know this, too.

Looking back, I was about 12 years old when I learned a lifelong lesson that we are all in this thing of life together.

A heart-breaking situation long ago pulled me out of my white smugness. I still feel the deep sorrow of the young black mother whose infant baby died before daybreak on a Sunday morning 65 years ago.

My older brother Raymond and I had just arrived at a shack where we inserted all the sections of the Sunday newspaper. Back then, each section was printed separately. It took a while to get the inserting job done before we could begin our house-to-house deliveries. 

We were hard at work at our task. The newspaper shack was located on the north side of what we called Negro Quarters. The clapboard houses in the four-block-square area were dilapidated, like coming apart. Some leaned at precarious angles. Old newspapers were tacked to the inside walls of the houses to serve as insulation.

Raymond and I heard wailing and screaming coming from one of the rundown dwellings a short distance from our shack, which faced the main paved road. I was a curious boy back then, so I went to find out what the noise was about.

All the houses were dark like the night, except for one. A kerosene lamp on the porch revealed several couples and children in the grassless front yard. More of the people were gathered inside the dimly-lit dwelling. All were crying and wiping back tears.

For some reason, I did not feel unwanted or afraid. I walked up on the porch and then inside the house. No one seemed to notice or mind. No one said anything to me.

There were many people gathered and crying inside the front room. A grieving mother wailed in front of a table. Resting on that table was her swaddled baby. The newborn was not moving or breathing. 

Even though it appeared to be a critical medical situation, no medical people were present. No ambulance arrived.

In all the sadness and unknown aspects of the situation, I felt no fear from those gathered inside. I only felt the extreme sorrow of everyone there, especially the grieving mother. 

That memory of her heartbrokenness is seared into my memory. It stays with me. I think of it often. I remember how my heart also felt broken. 

Something inside me opened up. I realized that whether black or white or any color, we as humans share the same feelings, emotions, hopes and heartbreaks. The death of a newborn baby is a tragic blow to everyone with feelings. 

As a very young lad that early Sunday morning, I learned a lifelong lesson. Tender is the night, as Keats wrote. Our feelings are human, and human comes in all colors, all shapes and all sizes. 

The vast majority of black people are very good people. They are Americans who love this country. 

Our skin color is a symbol of nothing. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best: We all will be judged by the content of our character, not the color of our skin. 

After I left the house, I joined my brother to start delivering the Sunday papers from house to house on our route aboard an old Cushman motor scooter with a pegged clutch. I didn’t feel up to the task emotionally, but I carried on.

What I had witnessed early that morning stayed with me. It was an unforgettable and life-altering moment.

We all feel both the pain and the joy of life, regardless. That places us all in a category of one.

I remember tearfully telling my brother and my mother what I had witnessed. Both hugged me and patted my back. 

This many years later, I still recall that morning. Each time I think of the grieving mother and her stillborn baby, I feel her human sorrow and her pain. And my heart breaks all over again. 

 

Ralph Morris is a retired newspaperman who lives near Auburn. His email address is r.morris@ctvea.net.

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