ENCOUNTER; BLACK AND WHITE


 

ENCOUNTER: A BLACK TEACHER, A WHITE PRINCIPAL
AND A CITY BOARD OF EDUCATION
By Uriah J. Fields

Forty-five years ago I was a substitute teacher for the Los Angeles Unified Public School Districts. During that time I had an experience that accounts for me writing the essay, "Encounter: A Black Teacher, a White Principal and a City Board of Education,"which is one of seven of my essays in the book "Black Survival (In a White Society), with the subtitle "Notes of a Red-Blooded American," published in 1969. In this presentation I will only mention the titles of the other six essays. They are: "If I were a Negro," "Black Anti-Semitism," "Black Capitalism," "Reparations: My Letter to the President," "The Anatomy of a Liberal" and "Confrontation: Black and White."

Before presenting "Encounter: A Black Teacher, a White Principal and a City Board of Education" I want  to present the "Foreward" to "Black Survival" written by Fran C. Goodman.

Foreward

I am a white woman living in a nice house in a predominantly white neighborhood and around me I hear many white voices, kind in intonation, but stating: "Why should I feel for the color people? I have problems and they don't feel for me," I answer them "If you were a Jew in the early 1940's and were in a concentration camp do you think you could feel sympathy for any Nazi?" I hear: "Everybody's catering to them, why don't they cater to the whites?" I sometimes hear "How could I say anything when he calls all white people 'racists'? I understand his feeling the way he does." When I hear this last statement I know I have met a sensitive white (excuse me for white and black desiginations - but what am I to do when I try  to describe this insipid probelm that should never have materialized in the first place? I nod my head.

There is no question but that some progress has been made in the arena of black-white problems. And I know it takes time to cure the inbred distortions and cripplings that happen to people on both sides when a man's skin color determines inferiority and superiority.

But because gains have been made, the danger to the black people is manifold. White people then grow smug thinking the problem has vanished when the root problem has not even begun to be tackled... the root problem of using a scapegoat to rid ourselves of inner hostilities, of using lackeys to do work we despise, of using a code of beauty that only embraces ourselves, of using people as things, etc., etc., etc. ...

If one thinks the problem is seriously being tackled he need only to pick up the newspaper. What do I read this morning in the Los Angeles Times? Page 2; 54 Arrested at Racially Troubled School; Page 5: White workers clash with Negroes, Police; Page 6: Black lawmakers hit choice of Haynsworth. Every day the black-white problem stares us in the face.

The white people would like to believe the black people's problem as it relates to the white community is solved. How wrong and how dangerous to all sides to make that assumption. This brings me to the subject matter of this "Foreward" - Uriah J. Fields' "Black Survival (In a White Society)."

If ever the United States of America and the world needed "Challenger," it does now. Smugness and self-satisfaction by white people when it relates to something that is desperation in the psyches of the black people is unthinkably cruel, needful and diminishes the character of whites. Sensitivity is needed and a voice is being put to us, that of Uriah J. Fields', a scholar, a sociologist and an educator, who can objectively view the scene and describe it - neither as a black nor white person.

His "American Challenger" comes out every month. Sometimes it is angry, sometimes it speaks sensibly all times it asks for no favors, no charities. Mr. Fields is obviously a man of great individuality and strength and though he was born a black man, he will not tolerate integration, lamentation or subjugation of anything that the white man obtusely proffers to him.

To me the importance of this book lies in its revelations. (I have been with enough black people to know the fear engendered in them by past lynchings and future possibilities of concentration camps to solve the "problem" as denoted by Mr. Fields). It lies in the brightness of Mr. Fields' perception in viewing the field and saying: do not gloss over the dangers. If you do they are really dangerous. If you don't, the possibility of coping with them and its elimination grows. But most of all it lies, in Mr. Fields' sense of humor when he states: "Don't call me a Negro. There is no such thing as Negroland," or phrase "white underhandlash," or "the liberal has majored on pacifying the Black Man when the Black Man needed not a pacifier but a prod;" or the "old plantation" has been replaced by the "new plantation" when he refers to the enslavement by welfare.

I do not have to elaborate on the range of subjects Mr. Fields tackles. They are listed on the frontispiece. Mr. Fields is a voice that should be heard. He challenges, he thinks with a freshness, in many respects he speaks for the Black Man, in many respects he speaks for the White Man, at all times he believes in one race, "the human race." I hope you will be as stimulated as I have been by the following pages and take heed.
-- Fran C. Goodman

Fran C. Goodman, Founder-Director of Toward a Compassionate Viewpoint and author of "The Brown Naughahyde Chair" matricuated at the University of Southern California. About a year after writing this "Foreward" Fran and I were married.

Before presenting the selected essay I am compelled to present this prose poem that appears in "Black Survival":

A Message from the Black Man to the White Man

Had you exploited and prostituted me because I was dirty,
      I could have taken a bath and become clean.
Had you exploited and prostituted me because I was ill-bred,"
      I could have improved my manners.
Had you exploited and prostituted me because I was ignorant,
      I could have gone to school and become educated.
Had you  exploited and prostituted me because I was bad,
      I could have reformed and become good.
Had you exploited and prostituted me because I was pennyless;
      I could have gone to work and earned some money.
And the truth is: I became clean; I improved my manners;
I became educated; I became good (at least as good as you);
I earned some money.
But still you exploited and prostituted me because of my color.
Something my Maker gave me; over which I have no control.
And even If I could change my color, I would not to please you. -- ujf

Encounter: A Black Teacher, A White Principal and a City Board of Education

In 1968, I served as a day-to-day substitute teacher for the Los Angeles City School Districts. On Friday, October 11th, I was called by telephone at 6:45 a.m., and asked to teach "Goverment" for Mr. Hines who was absent at Westchester High School. At 7:40 a.m., I arrived at the school and informed the school secretary as to why I was there. As I was about to sign-in the Principal walking out of his office looked at me, but did not speak. I noticed that he made a gesture to the secretary, and almost momentarily she said to me: "wait just a minute." She rushed to the Principal's office. Minutes later the principal came out of his office and in a very insulting way he began to lampoon me because of my appearance. "A person who has a mustache or beard cannot teach at Westchester," he asserted. After having about as much of that as I cared to take, I said to him: "If that is the way you feel about me I will leave the school immediately but my protest will be registered with the proper authorities." I left without further comment.

Westchester High School, located in a suburb of Los Angeles is unique in some ways. Most of the students come from upper middle class or wealthy families. Many of these students drive cars as good, if not better, than their teachers. The school has only token integration and it is well-known that there has been a deliberate effort to keep the school as white as possible.

After consulting with my legal adviser I sent the following letters of protest to the Board of Education of Los Angeles and the Supervisor of Substitutes:

11721 So. New Hampshire Ave.
 Los Angeles, Calif. 90044

October 14, 1968

The Reverend James E. Jones
Board of Education of the City of Los Angeles
450 North Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, Calif. 90012
              and
Mr. W. M. Barragar, Supervisor of Substitutes
Los Angeles City School Districts
450 Grand Avenue
Los Agneles, Calif. 90012

Dear Sir:

I am a day-to-day substitute teacher who has been servIng in that capacity for approximately three years without incident.

On October 11,1968, I was called by the Harbor School Districts office and asked to report to the Westchester High School to teach "Government." Once I arrived at the school and attempted signed-in, on the advice of the office secretary, the Principal said to me, "a person who has a mustache or beard cannot teach at Westchester." He said that he would telephone the Supervisor of Substitutes about the matter. I said to him "if that is the way you feel about me, I will leave the school but would register my protest with proper authorities." I left the school without further comment.

In the first place, I do not wear a beard. I do have a mustache ... and a miniature goatee. My face is always clean-shaven, hair cut short, and my appearance (business suit, dress shirt and necktie) is conservative.

One week prior to this incident I taught at Bret Harte School and the week before that at Drew Junior High School. Heretofore, neither teachers nor students have been affected or, to my knowledge, even commented on my appearance.

It appears to me that something deeper is involved here which may be racial in nature since I am of the African extraction. Even if I did have a beard I question whether the principal has a right to deny me the opportunity to teach.

I do hereby request that you investigate this matter and advise me concerning any regulation that forbids me as a teacher to wear a mustache or beard.

Sincerely yours,
Uriah J. Fields

I also sent a protest letter to the Westchester High School student body which was essentially the same as the letter above except for this addition: (Dated October 14,1968)

"...this principal of Westchester who may have racist feeling toward blacks denied me the right to teach.
I believe the students of Westchester High School should know about your principal's outrageous action. This is a denial of freedom and young people like you have a right to protest this action. ... I believe the youths and the black people have a tremendous part to play in redeeming America. Let us not allow silence or apathy to hasten the day when the police state will prevail in America."
Yours in the interest of freedom,
Uriah J. Fields.

Replies to my Letters of Protest
                                                                
Los Angeles School Districts
450 North Grand Ave.
Los Angeles Calif. 90012

October 17, 1968

Mr. Uriah J. Fields
11721 So.News Hampshire Avenue
Los Angeles California 90044

Dear Mr. Fields:

Mr. Walter Barragar has referred to me your letter of October 14,1968 concerning your experience at Westchester High School. I am, in turn, referring your letter to Mr. Allen Sebastian, Area Superintendent of that section of the school district in which Westchester High School is located. I am confident that Mr. Sebastian will communicate with you in the very immediate future.

In the event that Mr. Sebastian is not able to reach you within the next few days, may I suggest that you might wish to telephone him. The telephone number of his office is 323-9464.

Yours truly,
Arthur G. Anderson
Associate Superintendent

Los Angeles City School Districts
Secondary School Administrative Area A
1210 Magnolia Avenue
Gardena, Calif. 90247

October 28, 1968
                                                                  
Mr. Uriah J. Fields
11721 So. New Hampshire Ave.
Los Agneles, California 90044

Dear Mr.Fields:

Mr. Arthur Anderson, Associate Superintendent, recently indicated to you that he was referring to me your correspondence addressed to Mr. Walter M. Barrager relative to a recent incident at Westchester High School which occurred on October 11, 1968.

I have partially completed my investigation and would appreciate an opportunity to talk personally with you. Kindly contact me at 323-9464 for an appointment. Should I not be available when you phone, the secretary has my calendar and can make an appointment for a mutually convenient hour.

Sincerely,
Allen A. Sebastian
Area Superintendent

Board of Education
City of Los Angeles
450 North grand Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90012

November 1, 1968

Mr. Uriah J. Fields
11721 So. New Hampshire Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90044

Dear Mr. Fields:

Thank you for your letter of October 14, 1968 informing me of your dissatisfaction concerning the incident you encountered at Westchester High School. I have referred your letter to Mr. Stuart Stengel, Associate Superintendent of the Division of Secondary Education, whom I have asked to look into the matter. You will be hearing from him soon as possible.

Sincerely yours,
James Edward Jones
President
Board of Education

On November 7, 1968, the Los Angeles Heald-Dispatch newspaper learning of this matter carried this front page account: 

U. J. FIELDS DENIED L.A. TEACHING POST

Los Angeles- U. J. Fields, a substitute teacher for the Los Agneles City School Districts has charged that Principal Joseph A. Herman denied him the opportunity to teach at Westhester High School on October 11th because he has a goatee and is black.

Mr. Fields, president of the American Christian Freedom Society, author and lecturer, holds the California General Secondary Teaching Credential and has done substitute teaching for the past three years.

In his letter of protest to Rev. James E. Jones, president of the Los Angeles School Board of Education, W. M. Barragar, Supevisor of Substitutes and the student body of Westchester High School, Fields said: "On October 11, 1968, I was called by the Harbor School Districts office and asked to report to the Westchester High School to teach "Government. Once I arrived at the school the Principal said to me, 'A person who has a mustache or beard cannot teach at Westchester.' He also stated that he would telephone the Superinendent of Substitutes about the matter. I said to him "If that is the way you feel about me, I will leave the school but would register my protest with proper authorities." I left the shcool without any further comment.

One week prior to the incident I taught at Bret Harte School and the week before that at Drew Junior High School. He said, "Since I have not encountered any difficulty heretofore, it appears to me that something deeper is involved here which may be racial in nature since I am of the African extracition and Westchester is a nearly all white school."

The Rev. Jones, President of the Board of Education and Mr. Barragar have assured Fields that the matter is being investigated.

Mr. Fields stated that unless the matter is resolved honorably he will employ legal aid so that justice may prevail.

A LETTER FROM THE PRINCIPAL

Los Angeles City School Districts
Westchester High School
7400 West Manchester Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90045

November 1968

Mr. Uriah J. Fields
11721 South New Hampshire Avenue
Los Agneles, California 90044

Dear Mr. Fields:

It is unfortunate that a very brief personal preference expressed in the span of a minute or two in the privacy of my office has led to such misunderstanding. It is even more unfortunate that you and I do not know each other better - and isn't this usually the cause of so much misunderstanding - so that you would be aware that among the numerous mistakes of which I might be guilty, or other faults of character that I might possess, neither duplicity nor prejudice is included.

One in my position has the opportunity and responsibility to make a countless number of decisions in the course of a day, or an  hour, covering many subjects. It is certainly safe to assume that in the course of these events mistakes will be made - sometimes in judgment, sometimes in ignorance - but in  my case, of the head and not of the heart.

Perhaps the basis for my preference as expressed to you for persons placed in a position of leadership and instruction in the classroom is not sound. I have been rebuked and corrected by my supervisor for my conduct, and in the future I  will not even express that personal opinion in any similar manner. However, it is sad that there are inferences in some  instances and direct statements in other instances by you that I said and did things I did not, in fact, occur.

In the letter to my student body president and newspaper editor you stated that you were not allowed to teach and inferred that I was a racist. In your communication to Mr. Barragar you stated that a person who has a mustache or a beard can not teach at Westchester, and that I denied you the opportunity to teach. These statements are false and improperly attributed to my conduct.

I truly apologize for bringing the subject to your attention in the first place. In that, I am certainly guilty of unsound judgment. Of anything else I am innocent and offer this communication by way of  protest. For whatever reasons you may have, it is not in keeping with the Christian character you profess in your leaflet to suggest anything else but that did occur - any more than I have assumed or publicly announced anything different concerning you.

To paraphrase your own words, "let's not allow silence nor apathy," and I hasten to add - unmerited invectives - "to hasten the day when freedom of speech," or personal preference, will not be allowed.

I am at your disposal to resolve whatever misunderstanding you feel yet exists.

Yours in the interest of understanding,
Joseph S. Herman
Principal.

Encounter is necessary. It can be the best weapon the exploited or abused person has to employ in obtaining justice and affecting meaningful and viable change. It can work, as it did in this matter. There are times, however when encounter, like dialogue, is not adequate and confrontation must take place. Confrontation is the subject of the remainder of this book.

(Note to the reader. The aforementioned is a verbatim excerpted essay from "Black Survival (In a White World.)

Copyright 1969 and 2013 by Uriah J. Fields

Should you find this essay to be of value today as it was 44 years ago when it was first publish, do others of a kindred mind a favor and invite them to read it. -ujf

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