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The Rock

Wichita, Kansas, 1959.  My family lived at 1533 Wyoming Street in a typical single-story house with a basement. You could turn north, south, east and west and see big blue sky everywhere.  My sister was 11 and I was 9.  My sister was a Girl Scout and our mom was the Girl Scout Troop leader for the neighborhood.

A new family moved onto our street about six houses down with an 11-year old girl.  My mom and sister welcomed them into the neighborhood.  That was typical of the down-home Midwest, visiting new folks, finding out about the children, asking if there’s anything needed, letting them know “we’re glad you’re here!”  The new family became the talk of the neighborhood – “a new Black family’s in town”. And they didn't say “black” in 1959, in a southern-influenced area. They used a different word.

My sister and Donna, the neighbor girl, quickly became friends and would play together after school. And that seemed very normal to me. The new kid in the neighborhood, and he or she's a friend. That’s just how it works.  My sister had interests - ballet and synchronized swimming – and included Donna in everything she could, making her feel welcome. So Donna ended up attending Girl Scouts a couple of times.

One Sunday night, my family and I were sitting in the living room watching our old black and white television, maybe Ed Sullivan or something like that.  My sister and I were sitting on the floor. Mom and Dad were sitting in their chairs. The couch and front window were off to the side. It was very, very much the 50s nuclear family relaxing together on a Sunday evening.

Then we hear this crashing sound and it was obviously like a window had broken. I can't remember if it was my mom or my dad, saying, “Look, over behind the couch!”  There was a rock on the floor, about the size of a softball. There was a napkin with writing on it, stuck on to the rock with masking tape. We looked from the rock out through the broken window and had a sense of a band of people disappearing – sort of a commotion on the street that was dispersing.

My mom spoke.  Something like “I’m not going to stand for this”.  I didn't know what she meant, but the emotion was high.  I remember that. I felt fear because something had disrupted our world.

Mom read the note out loud.  I won’t use the exact words, I’ll leave a blank, but the note included a word that was both somewhat often heard then in Wichita, but meant to be ugly at the same time.  And it's ugly today in our society.  So, the main part of the note said, “that  little _______ will not come to any more Girl Scout troop meetings.”

It was very threatening. We could picture young tough guys, acting tough anyway, maybe not that tough, but they wanted us to think they were.

A short period of time went by and there wasn't much talk about the rock. On the next Tuesday or Thursday, or maybe a week and a half later, I don't know - little kid, 9 year old memory of time passage -  there was a PTA meeting. It seemed to come right up.  My mom would go to PTA meetings occasionally, not necessarily all the time.  But she was going to this one.  They had their old business and then new business and no mention of the matter of the rock.  Then they asked if anyone wanted to bring up any issues, and Mom said, “I have one topic.”

I need to tell you my mom was only about 5 feet tall.  But, she was also very large and weighed more than 200 pounds. A unique figure. She stood up on top of a folding chair with the rock in her hand and said,

“One of you, or one of your husbands, threw this rock through my window on Sunday night.  And that little girl has a home, not just in my home but in our Girl Scout troop. She belongs where she is, and we're not changing anything. And I want you to let your husbands know, if they're not here, that this has stopped and that little girl has a home.”

From my perspective, life went on pretty smoothly after that.  Donna was part of our lives and in the Girl Scout troop for years.  Looking back as an adult, I’m so proud of my mom. I also realize that there was a whole societal backdrop to this one event.  Wichita was very close to the Mason-Dixon line and there’s a lot of Kansas and broader history wrapped up in that line, even in my own family.  If you want to hear more about it, just ask me.

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