As feelings of racism raise its ugly head in 2018, I have had reason to pause and reflect on the story of my father’s migration to the United States of America. As the story unfolds the reader will see there is indeed a comeback to segregation.
My father Albert Rose, a Jamaican, applied for a scholarship to Tri-State University in Angola, Indiana. He received notification that he was accepted to the Engineering Program with a full athletic scholarship for tennis. Armed with his Sunday’s best clothing and his tennis racket, he departed Jamaica by boat to Miami and boarded a bus for Indiana.
Upon arrival at the campus, his dreams rapidly turned into nightmares! The screening process for the university did not include a picture of the applicant!! College officials were surprised, to say the least, that the star tennis academic honor student was black!!! This proved to be a problem for the college as well as my father. The first issue was where to house him. There were no rooms for a black man in the dormitory and no white students wanted to room with a black man. The school officials decided to house him in the building where the “workers”/janitors for the college resided. These accommodations were substandard, to say the least…There was minimal heat and the accommodations were ill-fitted with improper bedding.
My father faced quite a dilemma. He came to America to pursue his education and it was apparently becoming impossible. During the course of the next two weeks, my father was not permitted to either start classes or play tennis. He did not have the funds and the school did not have a slot for a black engineer or a black tennis player. The school would not budge. They offered him a position on either the football team or the basketball team. This would have been indeed a first for the school because heretofore the school did not have any black men or either team. But in their minds, football or basketball would have been a better fit for a black man. The obstacle was my father did not want or know how to play either sport.
Tensions were high. My father on a daily basis heard from the “workers” that him attending the school as either an engineering major or a tennis player simply would not happen., “Blacks people do not do that here.” Alas, my father made a bold request to school officials. He proposed that he would play their two best tennis players in a tennis game and if he prevailed, he would be allowed to pursue his degree in engineering and he would also be allowed to play on the tennis team. He also offered that if he lost the match, they would provide him with a bus ticket to Miami where he could obtain a boat ticket back to Jamaica. The school miraculously agreed to the tennis match…History will show that my father not only won the match, but he also had an overwhelming defeat of his two opponents.
My father went on to play tennis and to become the co-captain of the tennis team. The college also went on to allow Indian player from Trinidad to join the tennis team. Even though when the school played other teams he was not permitted to stay in the same hotel or dormitory with his teams. He frequently had to sleep on the team bus. He also graduated with honors and a Master’s Degree in Engineering. The challenges, however, did not dissipate. He graduated in 1956 and promptly began seeking jobs in America. Regrettably, he found no one willing to hire a black engineer. It was unheard of in 1956. In fact, he was told the best he could be offered was a position as either a janitor or office help!
So, my father who was now married with a small child (me) decided to return to his beloved homeland, Jamaica. Prior to commencing his return trip, he submitted numerous applications to companies and organizations on the island. Within one month he was offered a junior engineer position with a prestigious company on the island. Our family returned to Jamaica!! Where my father continued in his profession as a successful engineer. He attained senior engineering positions with the aluminum company.
The best comeback of all is that I was fortunate to be raised in Jamaica where I did not live under the shadow of racism. I was not limited. I could drink out of any fountain, I could sit anywhere on the bus, I could live in any neighborhood, and I received the best education the world has to offer.