Published October 21, 2019


Page 13

The good feeling of acceptance didn’t last long. The US Marine
Corps—like other branches of the military—knit our unit together in
a way that made us stronger. The city kids were paired with country
kids, the northern with southern, the eastern with western—and since
1952—black soldiers with white soldiers. These combinations
strengthened our forces. Combining opposing energies taught us who
we were, and why we were such a unique country.

As recruits in basic training, whenever we congregated by race,
the senior drill instructor ordered us to “checkerboard.” We knew
what he meant. As fissures opened along the fault lines of racial dis
contentment in society, these disagreements impacted every aspect of
America—including military life. As desegregation occurred in the
United States, so did desegregation result from a command by our
drill instructor.

I always rejected white or black racism. One of the few traits I
liked about myself was my ability to mingle and respect people of
any race or ethnic background. Corporal Clayton wasn’t my only
white acquaintance. In our squad bay, my bunkmate was a white fel-
low— I’ll call “Lester”—who played the guitar. I played guitar a lit-
tle while in Los Angeles. We formed a natural friendship when we
learned we both liked folk songs.

I was curious and interested in everything. For the past few years,
I lived almost as a recluse—a fugitive. Now, I was excited to take
every opportunity to interact with—and learn from—anyone. During
on-duty and off-duty hours, I could be seen in animated conversa-
tions with different people all over the base.

About a week after my return to the base, the same group of black
marines called me to their table during evening chow. “Look here,
‘Brother Heavy,’” Ricky said, as I sat down. “I got to pull your coat
about something.” He stressed each word. (“Brother Heavy” was
given to me as a nickname.)
“What’s that?” I asked innocently.

“You been hangin’ with them ‘gray’ dudes too much. That’s bad
form, my brother.”
I had an uncomfortable suspicion that I knew what he was talk-
ing about, but I acted clueless.“What are you talkin’ about?”

“The white dudes, man,” one of the other guys said, as Ricky
rolled his eyes.
“Look man, white guys are ‘gray’ dudes. We got to work with
’em, but we don’t have to hang with them.”

My face and ears were on fire. Suddenly, I was burning up. His
tory was repeating itself. Racism was always the same—whether
spoken from white lips or black lips—and I always rejected it.

“You’re wrong, brother,” I said calmly. “I don’t play that stuff. I
talk to everybody. I grew up with all kinds of people. Almost every
brother you see has some white blood in his veins from slavery days.
I can’t get into that way of thinking. Life is too short,” I stated

“We’ve got to come together as a people, bro,” Ricky said and
gestured around the table. “The white man is the enemy. First, he sold
us; then he killed our leaders and raped our women! That’s why the
Black Muslims call ’em devils, man. They’re like a disease. We
always end up fightin’ their wars, and then we come home and catch
hell, brother. That shit is tired!”

“I know where you’re comin’ from, but you can’t hate people
without that poison choking you,” I said passionately. I was moved
more by fear than courage. I feared that their attitude would devour
them, if not challenged. I was prepared for the consequences. Yet,
there were no consequences. There were no threats. That group of
“brothers” just wanted their disapproval noted.

I stood firm, because I couldn’t be dictated to on that topic. Not
all blacks felt like they did. From that moment, they counted me
among those who felt differently than they did. I followed my own spirit and spent time with white and black marines. I was an individual who happened to be in a plain, brown wrapper. I had no desire to be “white,” nor to be judged by others with a “blacker than thou” attitude.

Hear The Author Show interview with William L. Ingram about writing FINDING HEAVEN IN THE DARK: