GEORGETOWN — In 1970, I was 14 years old. I am white. I lived on the white side of the tracks in a small, rural Southern town: Franklin, Virginia. The Norfolk Southern railroad literally separated whites from blacks. The tracks were not a metaphor in Franklin.

I did not know in 1970 that I was a small and largely clueless soldier on the front lines of a century-scaled civil rights transformation. In the South, we do what we’re told. We have inordinate respect for authority – which can be a virtue in times of upheaval.

Between my seventh- and eighth-grade years, Franklin schools were forced by law to desegregate. It seemed ridiculous to a 14-year-old, but I was so blissfully distracted by hormones I hardly noticed the edict from above. I just got on the bus and went where I was told to go.

In the morning we were bused to the formerly all-black high school and then bused back across town to the formerly all-white high school  for afternoon classes. The other half of my eighth-grade class did exactly the opposite at noon.

I was absorbed in the recent second Democratic debate until Kamala Harris said, “And that little girl was me.” I stopped listening to whatever else she, or others, said. She was referring to a little girl who was bused across town as a result of desegregation in her California hometown when she was a child.

What had Ms. Harris just said?


All I could think was “And that little boy was me.” Of course, more than geography separated my experience from hers. Skin color made our respective experiences entirely different.

Or were they?

What I know now, 49 years later, is that I am the better person for what happened to me in 1970. It must have worked for Ms. Harris, too, given that she is running for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. One could argue she got the better deal. But I don’t think so because I despise air travel and I much prefer rural Maine to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

After college, I ended up with my first job in Massachusetts. Yankeeland! Good thing I had been taught how to embrace diversity in Franklin at the age of 14.

I had two immediate impressions of Massachusetts: Where are all the black people? And why is everyone so unfriendly?

I missed the racial diversity of my native region. I was missing something that was a part of me. It was like so many things in life that we don’t appreciate until they are not there anymore. It surprised me. “And that little girl was me” put much of my life in perspective.


This is the real lesson of 1970 that remains with me to this day. I seek out diversity. Not just because of some ethical or moral duty, but because different points of view make me richer, more thoughtful, better able to see a clear path to the future. In short, I’m a more hopeful person today because I was forced to take a bus, twice a day, across the tracks, in Franklin, Virginia, in 1970.

Yes, busing was about righting a racial wrong. But I believe it was much more than that. It was about difference. Difference can come in many forms besides the color of skin. It can be gender. Age. Socioeconomic situation. Religion, or lack thereof. And perhaps the most difficult difference of all today – politics.

Morality is a good reason to fight any kind of inequality. But another reason is purely practical. We’re going to figure out how to create the world we all want, faster and better, by embracing difference, in whatever form it might present itself to us. This does not mean abandoning our own values. It means finding a way to integrate our values with those of others in our society.

In the end, what other course really makes any sense at all? The path we’ve been taking? I don’t think so.

Ms. Harris and I have a bond: We are both better people than we would have been had we not taken that bus.

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