Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31 Number 14. June 25, 1968
That land of contrast: Insight into the 'Great Society'
That land of contrast: Insight into the 'Great Society'
In Salient 11 I discussed visiting universities and meeting students on my trip to America. But this was only one of the aims of the Student Leader Project. The others were to "experience American Life", sec as much of the country within the limits of time and money, and do these things with a group of Asian students.
To "experience American life" first hand, I stayed with American families in two greatly different parts of the United States. For three weeks I lived with the family of a Ford Service Agency manager on the shores of Puget Sound, Seattle, Washington State towards the end of our trip I spent a much shorter four day "home stay" with the family of a lawyer in Hutchinson, Kansas, Both were wonderful experiences.
I found the people of the Pacific Northwest similar to New Zealanders in that many led an outdoor life and I was very fortunate to be able to fit in some skiing, seal-hunting, steel-heading, and boating on the Sound. The seal is a predator which is shot on the shores of the Sound and the steel-head is similar to our trout, though as both expeditions were unsuccessful I am relying on hearsay!
It was somewhat surprising to find that quite a number of people in the Pacific North-West thinks of the cast coast of the United States as mecca. There seemed to be an inferiority complex about it when some people told us that everything would be so much more sophisticated and cosmopolitan in the east. They felt that they were out in the back blocks as well they might if they heard a New Zealander say that going out West was going to Chicago.
The tremendous contrasts in the United States were never more clearly demonstrated than when we left the east coast and flew to Kansas which is in the middle of the two "belts." The dead fiat corn belt and the puritan Bible belt were both something of a shock to someone from "down under." Nonetheless true Kansas hospitality greeted us wherever we went during our short stay and "come visit with me" was always the call.
In fact the generous hospitality which we were accorded throughout the trip was overwhelming. Our short visits to several cities provide many memories of people and sights.
The programme got off to a flying start with a few days "orientation" at the East West Centre of the University of Hawaii where we discussed amongst other topics "myth pictures" of the United States and Asia.
Our first stop on mainland America was San Francisco which we reached along with Vice-President Humphrey shortly after the Rusk riots and made the now hallowed pilgrimages to Haight-Ashbury and Chinatown. Then we flew north to Seattle for three weeks which included a visit to the Boeing Factories before flying cast via Niagara and Vermont to historic Boston.
As well as Boston on the east coast we spent some time in New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. A lifetime would not be long enough to see New York. Five hectic days gave us time to visit the Police Department, City Hall, the New York Times Office, two art museums, one cathedral, the United Nations and several other sights as well as some shows.
In Washington D.C., where local news is national news, we had the opportunity to meet Senator Clark of Pennsylvania and Congressman Cohelan (Democrat, Berkeley District, California) and Frelinghuysen (Republican, New Jersey). We were also fortunate that when we attended the Senate
While we were in Washington D.C. President Johnson released the Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders which concluded: "Our Nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal", and "race prejudice has shaped our history decisively; it now threatens to affect our future." they were debating Vietnam and Civil Rights.
During a short busy ten weeks it was only possible to gather a limited picture of the negro problem which after all has its roots in American history and which required the "Riot Commission" to produce a 700 page report. Our first contact with the urgency of the problem was in Honolulu where a negro student told us, "if we waited 20 years until the present college generation were in the majority, the Negro would be O.K.—but I don't want to wait 20 years just so as I can be accepted as an equal to a white man".
One only needed to visit the Negro ghettos in the large cities to see the extent to which the Negro is separate and unequal. Walking through the dirty streets of New York's dilapidated Harlem with the Japanese in our group, we were in a colour minority of two and extremely aware of the silence and stares which followed us. I was pleased to remember that my Japanese friend was a black belt in judo.
In Boston's Roxbury the Negro has his own school, newspaper and centre. The separate New School was set up by Negro parents dissatisfied with the Boston Public Schools. The Negro couple I dined with told me that the conditions in the Public Schools had not changed since they attended them over twenty years ago.
The separate negro community newspaper, "The Banner", is published weekly. We were told it had been in great difficulties a year or so ago when white advertisers withdrew their support, but now it had managed to pull through with the backing of the community. The Negro Ecumenical Centre was set up by Negros to help themselves "make ours a powerful, vibrant and whole community" through services in housing, education and welfare.
The Boston City Council has had one Negro elected to it since 1951. He is Mr Thomas Atkins who pointed out, in a talk I attended, that the answer to the Negro problem lies in curing the causes of the riots, not in forcefully preventing them from happening. The riots which have already begun were expected. In February, New York City Police Commissioner Leary told us "there's going to be trouble this summer —I'm sure—and I'm not sure there's much we can do about it."