Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How to Build a Proper Melting Pot - A Diffle County Update Part 3

The year is 1960. Diffle County is a quiet, wooded rural community with rounded mountains to the Northeast, a highland plateau to the Northwest,  and a large mountain, called Kitakima (lenni-lenape origin), running like a spine the entire length of Diffle County’s Southeastern border. The county is shaped like postage stamp that got pulled in two opposite directions, no longer square, but not too far out of square either.

On the very top of Kitakima mountain is the most desolate trail in the country- the Ahsenike (AH-SNEAK-A) trail.  The rumor is that the army uses the Ahsenike to train its green berets for night maneuvers.  I walked 17 miles of the trail one weekend. I slept in a hammock between two trees, all snuggled in my sleeping bag.  The coyotes howled all night long.  I wanted to ah-sneak-ah  right out of there!   Hiking off the mountain, ten miles to the North, right in the heart of Diffle County sits Jacobsville, founded in 1802 by the Rev. Paul Jacobs, a Methodist Minister looking for a new flock.

In 1960, Diffle County was extremely rural. It’s entire population was, according to the U.S. census, 32,398 persons.  The people of Diffle County were of the mostly of the same color, 98.9 percent white. The 1960 US Census actually listed them as “Native White”.  I’m not certain how native Americans felt about that but I suppose back in those days, Native Americans were still called Injuns in the movie westerns. The remaining residents in the county, all 1.1% of them, were non-white: Yep, a grand total of 357 non-white residents within the whole county of Diffle.  Only two of them owned their homes.

Fifty years ago, there were other differences too. Most important were the two-lane roads.  There was no interstate system that slammed a commercial hand-palm on the area, no 4-lane highways that by-passed Main street, no airport larger than a piper cub, and no minor league sports team.  If you wanted to visit here, you had to drive in on treacherous, narrow mountain roads.  Very few businesses advertised outside the local paper, tourists arrived by word of mouth.  A friend would mention to a cousin what a wonderful time his family had a Greenbriar Lodge. The next year, the cousin was there with his family.  Slowly, quietly, the county took care of its business- along with its family resorts and hunting clubs.

There is always one exception- Winding Brook Resort and Golf Club advertised in all the city newspapers and television stations.  It was the ultimate resort with an indoor pool, concert hall, and a thousand rooms in 6 different Greek revival buildings spread out across a gaudy landscape of Roman statues and modern fountains.  The city folk loved it.  The locals laughed, but many of them worked there at one time or another.  The checks never bounced.        

Back in those days, most people had coal furnaces and there was a coal yard in each town.  You walked to the store, there was no Wallyworld, Kmart, and the nearest McDonalds was 20 miles away.  Then there was Sally’s Coffee shop on Diamond Street.  You could always count on Sally’s for latest in fine diner cuisine. In 1967, she introduced the pizza burger and received a “good citizen” award from the East Jacobsville town council.  If you did happen to see an African American, he or she was either washing dishes at Sally’s, sweeping the sidewalk at Cotterman’s Funeral Home, or weeding Mr's. Turnball’s garden.   Diffle county folks loved their white-washed fences as much as their whitewashed faces.  

You didn’t see much prejudice in a small county in Pennsyltucky in 1960.  There just wasn’t enough non-whites around to harass.  But you didn’t let your white daughter anywhere near Jefferson or 9th street.  That is where the black folk lived.  You didn’t let your son hang out on Carmen Street- the Mexicans might carve him up.  For the middle class and wealthier white folk,  the attitude was more prejudice masked as socially incorrect behavior.  “Jimmy does a wonderful job with trimming my bushes and he is always punctual when I call, but he knows he is not welcome inside my house!”  Mrs. Turnball would declare with a laugh.  “Sarah, you should not be talking to that boy.  What will your friends think?  Your grandfather is rolling over in his grave! Now, stick with your own friends (that we chose for you) from now on!”

The poorer folk weren’t as refined with their prejudice.  Confederate flags hung from their porches, there were more than a few night meetings in white robes, and every now and again, a big old cross would get torched in some dishwasher’s front yard.  Just a reminder, the local men would say, just a reminder.

In 1970, the interstate system reached Diffle County and everything changed.  The monster highway cut through the County like a snake, across the highlands, down into Haney valley, three exits for Jacobsville, one exit for East Jacobsville  (next to the hospital), then through the East Kitakima gap and gone, bound for the bright lights of the big cities on the coast. The local business association hailed it as the beginning of a new era. Unfortunately for them, the new era included chain stores that undercut their prices and ran them out of town.  Suddenly a four hour drive into the city became an easy two-hour drive.  New people poured into the county like water out of a spilled glass.

The interstate was the pot and people of all races, creeds, and religions melted into Diffle County.  The 2000 U.S. Census looked remarkably different than 1960.  The county had grown to 140,000 people with 76% white, and 24% non-white.  The minorities were mainly African American (10%), Hispanic (8%), Asian (2%), and the remaining 4% included Native Americans (0.3%).  There were more minorities living in Diffle County in the year 2000  (33,621) than the entire population in 1960. Most of those folks owned their own homes. Diffle County didn't need change, it had already been changed.

In the mid-1980’s, after witnessing 15 years of (radical- to them) change, and in keeping with their heritage, local political white folk decided to take action to protect their children and preserve their way of life.  What happened next is something more of a shared vision than a single individual leading the way forward (backward).  At cocktail parties, golf outings, etc.,  the discussion amongst the folk revolved around topics like, “preserving our way of life”,  “keeping what is already here intact and creating new schools for the city folk”. Certain well-known individuals with large, deep family ties ran for school board, council, and township office and they won.  Most had no competition.  Those already in office were re-elected again and again by wide margins.

The vision became a plan and the plan became a reality- build new schools near the new subdivisions and create a parallel elementary and secondary educational system.  It can’t be prejudice if the newer residents get to send their children to a brand new school!  It is true that with a growth rate exceeding the national average by 10-15% a year, new schools were needed, and it made sense to build them close to the new neighborhoods. It was simply coincidental that the older schools would mostly house the students from the local, deep-rooted families.  Those schools had a history, daddy played football there and mommy was a cheerleader.  Keeping those schools was a necessity- there was no other option.

Some folks would call that smart planning. Others might think of it as a kind of community enforced segregation- Diffle County versus the big city.  I call it  “use your political power while you still have it.”

Tomorrow: Part 4   New School, Old Attitudes, and Inevitable Change  

Disclaimer:  All characters are fictional. Any likeness to real or somewhat real individuals is completely and intentionally coincidental.There is no Diffle County in Pennsyltucky.  In fact, there is no Pennsyltucky.  Liability is strictly limited to double the compensation received for writing this article. Copyright (C) 2010  The Mutant Mouse Chronicles, A Fishfire Media Lab Presentation, subsidiary of Data Corp LLC, another Waterbunny migraine company.

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