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I’m a Lucky Man

John W. Pinkerton


I’m a lucky man.

I’m seventy-four years old.  I was high school age when the schools in Little Rock were integrated.  It was like a distant voice whispering that there was a problem.  I didn’t give it much thought at first.


My father often spoke of Rufus, a Black boyhood friend of his who grew up with him in Kensett, Arkansas.  He was obviously fond of Rufus, and I had a chance to meet him when he owned a laundry in Kensett.  Dad had a plumbing business during my high school years and employed a number of Blacks.  He seemed to like them and got along well with them.  He never said whether or not he liked the fact that the schools were being integrated, but I do recall that he said it was the right thing to do.

When I was at LSU, it wasn’t integrated until I was a senior.  I understand that the graduate schools were integrated earlier, but I don’t recall seeing any black students.  I do recall that a young Black man began to recite a poem from the steps of the student center.  Everyone passing by paused to listen.  Frankly, I could not understand what he was trying to say, but I did admire his courage.

I graduated from LSU in the middle of the Viet Nam war and when the draft was at its height.  I found myself on a bus from Shreveport, Louisiana, to Fort Polk, Louisiana.  I recall speaking with a black draftee who seemed to be a little anxious about going to Fort Polk.

Of course there were a lot of Blacks in my unit at Fort Polk.  My bunkmate was a Black state all-star football player from Arkansas.  He was a good fellow, but I recall one evening when I was trying to get some sleep, he insisted on whistling which I asked him more than once to cease.  My reaction was a little irrational in that I jumped out of my bunk and informed him that if didn’t stop whistling that I’d whip his ass.  He took mercy on me, and I was able to go to sleep.

In all my time in the service, all of the Black soldiers I worked with were pretty nice fellows.  Something which I didn’t notice for some time was that when we went out to drink, which was most evenings, I never saw a black.  Apparently, they had their own drinking place and the whites had theirs.

I went out every night to drink except payday night, so I missed the following incident.  Some of the fellows told me that a group of five Black soldiers came into the “white” German beer joint I usually frequented.  Instead of coming in and greeting folks, they dispersed throughout the place.  That was a mistake.  Let’s just say that the evening did not end well for them.


Being curious, a few of us about a week later decided to visit the “black” German beer joint.  We went in, we were friendly, and after an hour or so left.  That wasn’t hard.

I have to tell you about a funny incident which happened to me involving one of the Black soldiers in my battery.  I can’t remember his name now, but I remember that he was a teacher from Texas whom everyone admired for his good sense and and sense of humor.  While on leave in Paris, I unexpectedly ran into him on the street.  He laughed when we met and told me he had just a few minutes before observed some fellows without clothes wading in one of the reflection pools.  He shared with me, “There is some conjecture that they might be Americans.”

Bless his heart, he died in an automobile accident about a week after he had gotten back to Texas.  I was grieved by his loss.  Texas missed out on a fine fellow and undoubtedly a fine educator.

After a couple of wasted years, I returned to Texas and took a job teaching.


My school, Somerville ISD, had integrated two years before I started teaching.  Apparently, it was completed without any problems.

I wasn’t worried about what color my students were.  I was worried about doing a decent job of teaching.  My degree was in English, not education.

The Black students were good students.  The white kids were good students.  The Hispanic kids were good students.  The main thing was that they were good young people from good families.

One day in class, one of  my Black students, a rather gregarious girl, raised her hand and after I recognized her, she said, “Mr. Pinkerton, you’re prejudiced,” to which I immediately responded, “That’s right, Fredrica, I don’t like white folks either.”  Her exasperated  response was, “Oh, Mr. Pinkerton.”

Humor goes a long way to smooth the bumps out in life.

Many of our students, both Black and white, went on to achieve college degrees and many went on to become criminals and many haven’t had very satisfactory lives, but on the whole, most have done well for themselves.

Linda, who taught business courses at Somerville, and I have had since we retired many black students visit with us in our home.  It’s nice to see them again.

I must admit that years ago when Blacks began to burn down their cities across the country, they lost my dad’s support.   Heck, if I hadn’t had an opportunity to associate with so many Black people, old and young, whom I respected, they may have lost me also.

I have no advice for Black folks except the same advice I’d give anyone.  Get an education, work hard, save your money, stay with God, treat your family with the respect they deserve, and try not to get yourself killed doing foolish things.

As I said in the beginning, I’ve been lucky.  I haven’t had to waste my time fixated on race.