Looking Back

The level of racism and sexism still present in America is disheartening. But in this time of despair, take a moment to look back. Much has changed in just one lifetime.

In 1960, when I entered college at the University of Florida, blacks were not allowed to enroll there or at any of the other major state universities across the South. Blacks were turned away at restaurants, hotels and motels and other public accommodations across the South and even in the North. In the Southern states, there were separate bathrooms, separate schools, even separate drinking fountains. Voting rights were essentially restricted to whites-only.

In 1962, when Penny and I married, the Bank of America refused to open a bank account in her name without her husband’s permission. We changed banks. She could not wear a pants suit at work as a teacher. She had no first name because invitations to formal occasions were addressed to Mrs. Jerry Scribner.

In 1964, when I entered law school at U.C. Berkeley my class of more than 250 students had only one black and fourteen women. Our dentist said he had voted for JFK, supported women’s rights but lamented those that took seats in professional schools since they couldn’t be depended upon to work as many years as a man would. Having helped put me through law school, Penny took a year off from teaching to have a baby and at the same time obtain her Master’s degree.

In 1964, a law, passed by the Legislature (the Rumford Act) that prohibited racial discrimination in the sale and rental of housing was overturned by a 65% vote. The right to discriminate was enshrined in the State’s constitution by Prop 14 at the request of the real estate lobby and Republicans. It was later declared unconstitutional.

Until the 1970s, women were legally barred from the military and certain civilian occupations like bartender and informally barred from many others except secretary, nurse or housewife. Sex and age discrimination were common. You had to be young, pretty and female to be a flight attendant. Minors could get medical care if they were already pregnant but not birth control. Contraceptives were sold under the counter. Abortion was illegal.

Now, fifty years later, we find old prejudices and resentment at loss of unearned privilege cropping up. We had hoped we had outgrown that. We haven’t.

Yet much has changed for the better. Major institutions and corporations are led by women in prominent positions. Women and people of color are police chiefs, judges, Governors and Senators and newscasters. Being gay is no longer a crime. Neither is marrying a person of a different race or of the same sex.

So, take heart. We have come a long way in this lifetime. Savor what has been accomplished and keep on fighting for the America we believe in.

Jerry Scribner
August 17, 2017