I still remember the Wausau East High School homecoming parade in the fall of 1981. It was my senior year and I was standing along 7th St. in front of the high school, and across the street from Immanuel Lutheran Church.
Wausau East’s 1,000 students reflected Wausau, Wisconsin: a place where what passed for ethnic or religious diversity was whether one was of either Polish or German ancestry, and whether one was either Catholic or Lutheran. I could count the number of Jewish students on one hand with fingers left over, and the number of African American students on one finger.
And then that float came into view, and that view was jaw-dropping: It was one of my classmates holding onto a chain that was wrapped around the neck of another my classmates, who was kneeling and in black face, dressed as a slave.
I don’t remember what the float’s sign said, but, I do remember standing next to my friend Ron, who was that one African American kid. I still don’t know how he maintained his composure but, sadly, it was likely anchored in prior experiences.
I had known some of the boys who camouflaged that float to get into the parade since first grade. I never found out why they came to admire the Klan. And I don’t know what happened to them after high school.
What I hope happened is that neither they, nor any of their offspring were on the wrong side of happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month. But, I can’t help but be skeptical. After all, it’s far easier to stay ignorant than to enlighten oneself.
I’m Andrew Nelson, and that’s my perspective.