Was 1958 really 50-years ago?
It seems like only yesterday when the American Flag was mounted prominently on the west wall of Ms. Rumbleheart’s classroom at my Lincoln Elementary School in Alameda, California. On one side of the flag was a photograph of then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower and on the other side was a photograph of former President Abraham Lincoln.
Our class was made up of primarily Irish, German, English, Scottish and Italian Americans. Although the city of Oakland was just “over the bridge,” that might as well have been another world away where “the Negroes” lived. We didn’t have any Negroes in our school.
I do recall one little girl, Maria, was in my class. She was real quiet. She didn’t speak much English. Her parents worked in the lettuce fields near San Jose. She lived with an older sister during the week.
Every school-day morning we school children, following our school teacher Ms. Rumbleheart’s lead, would proudly face the flag with right hand over our hearts and solemnly recite the Pledge of Allegiance with its ending of “…with liberty and justice for all.”
Looking back, many events of the day were similar to the happenings of today for the average US citizen.
For example, even during that year of 1958, Baghdad grabbed newspaper headlines. We read about how King Faisal II of Iraq was killed by the Iraqi Army in a coup. Great Britain reacted to the coup by mobilizing 6,000 troops. Meanwhile, President Eisenhower announced that he was sending 5,000 troops to Lebanon “to monitor the situation in the Middle East.”
During that same year basketball star Wilt Chamberlain signed with the Harlem Globetrotters and Floyd Patterson knocked out Roy Harris in the 12th round in Los Angeles to remain Heavyweight Champion.
And, the cost of living was discussed about as much as it is today. Can you imagine that a gallon of milk actually cost $1.01 in 1958. A typical loaf of bread was $.19 and a First-Class stamp cost $.04. The average cost of a new American-made car was about $2,200 and the gasoline needed to fuel that automobile cost about $.24 per gallon.
The Dow-Jones average was about $583, the minimum wage per hour was $1 and the average annual income for an American white worker was $4,650—less for non-white workers with Black-Americans struggling with an unemployment rate about double that of most other Americans.
During 1958, baseball Hall of Fame member (and my all-time sports hero) Willie (Say Hey) Mays had a batting average of .347 playing center-field for the San Francisco Giants.
And, also fifty years ago former U.S. House of Representatives member Barbara Jordan from the 18th District of Texas was studying law at Boston University Law School before becoming only the third African-American woman to be licensed to practice law in the state of Texas.
Even Martin Luther King, Jr. had already found a significant place in history during 1958 while serving his first year as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Council.
And, tonight as I write this column I’m monitoring various news agencies now reporting that Barack Hussein Obama, Jr., the junior United States Senator from Illinois tonight became the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party in the 2008 presidential election.
He is the first African American to win the nomination of either of the two major American political parties.
I should note that by the end of my 1958 school-year, Maria had learned how to communicate well in English and later went on to become a celebrated public school teacher in California.
Had my stern elementary school teacher Ms. Rumbleheart been alive today, she probably would have reminded her elementary students that anyone can grow up in America to become president of the United States, a public school teacher or even a newspaper columnist because we actually do believe in that sturdy Pledge of Allegiance that promises “… with liberty and justice for all.”
© Submitted by Bob Grafe for publication on June 5, 2008.