Like many alums of Seattle’s Garfield High School (including,as dedicated readers will know, Dave over at WordMunger), I am deeply, deeply proud to be an alum. I roll that list of the four most famous students around from time to time and marvel at how, in its diversity, it reflects the main reason for my pride: the whole time I was there, I felt so lucky to be part of a working, thriving multi-racial community. Now, in an article about a long-overdue renovation, I read of the very, very long history of that pride: "The nineteen hundred and thirty eight Arrow [the yearbook] is dedicated to the student body of Garfield, whose friendliness stimulates racial understanding.”
Situated in Seattle’s Central District, a largely black residential neighborhood bordered by white and mixed neighborhoods and not far east of downtown, Garfield was, when I was there in the early eighties, the high school that the local black community most closely identified with. The administration was largely black and the student body was just over half black. Acquaintances at other schools had heard rumors of the ongoing influence of the Black Panthers. To me, this was crazy racial, racist fear, an insane anachronistic hysteria. But I was surprised and fascinated to learn something of the actual basis for this rumor from the Seattle Times article:
Things got so rough that Michael Dixon, the 1970 senior-class president, tennis-team captain and a member of the Black Panthers, said that after school he would escort white friends home to their Madrona neighborhood and Asian-American friends to their homes down by Yesler Way. He even worried for his own safety.It’s not that things were perfect—there was prejudice, discrimination, and harassment in my day, too—but we all worked hard to get along and we loved those times when we did, when we came together as a community in spite of the fears and low expectations of the world around us.
Hard as it is to describe the pride that comes from living in a thriving and diverse community it’s harder to overstate the times in my life when I have understood something, connected with someone who expected to find me hostile, been moved by something where I was expected to be cold because of my time at Garfield. As we used to sing in the stands after every football game, win or lose, “I’m so glad, I go to Garfield High / Singing glory hallelujah, I go to Garfield High!”