The cost of si­lence will cost us all

The Taos News - - FAVOR Y CONTRA - Norm Fer­gu­son is a Taos County res­i­dent.

In the fall of 1951 I was in the sec­ond grade at an el­e­men­tary school in sub­ur­ban Philadel­phia, Penn­syl­va­nia. My teacher was Mrs. B. ,a stout woman with gray hair and a broad smile. There were about 30 stu­dents in the class. The ma­jor­ity were white and there were also sev­eral Black stu­dents in our class.

The first fire drill hap­pened in late Septem­ber. Mrs. B. had in­structed us on the path we should take to get out of the build­ing through the class­room’s main door that en­tered into the hall­way. Also an in­te­rior door was in our room that con­nected us to an­other sec­ond grade class next door.

The fire alarm went off, and we ex­ited our class­room and went down the hall to an out­side door. We were out on the play­ground for about five min­utes. Then the bell rang again sig­nal­ing that we should re­turn to our class­room, which we did.

My desk was in the first row ad­ja­cent to the wall that sep­a­rated our class­room from the hall. The sec­ond graders in the other class­room came into our room from the door to the hall and filed through our room and back into their class­room.

As a Black kid passed through our room, he no­ticed a stub of a pen­cil ly­ing on the floor against the wall ad­ja­cent to my desk. He bent down and picked it up and con­tin­ued walk­ing to­wards his class­room.

Mrs. B. no­ticed what he had done and she shouted at him, “That’s Norm Fer­gu­son’s pen­cil!” But, it was not my pen­cil.

The Black kid replied, “I found it here by the wall.” Mrs. B. took hur­ried steps in his di­rec­tion. And she shouted at him, “Liar!”

And when she got to him she hauled off and smacked him very hard in the face with her open right hand. The Black kid im­me­di­ately started cry­ing and he ran back out of the room and dis­ap­peared. I felt aw­ful be­cause I knew he was telling the truth, but I was afraid to con­tra­dict Mrs. B. about what she had said and done.

About an hour later there was a knock on our class­room door. The door opened and the school prin­ci­pal stepped in and said, “Mrs. B. may I see you?” Mrs. B. walked briskly out into the hall. I could see two Black women and the Black stu­dent stand­ing out in the hall. I thought they were prob­a­bly his mother and grand­mother. Then Mrs. B. closed the door be­hind her. I thought about get­ting up and go­ing out into the hall to tell the prin­ci­pal, Mrs. B., and the two Black women the truth about the pen­cil.

But, I did not. I was again afraid to tell the prin­ci­pal the truth in front of Mrs. B. I knew I should have told her right away when she yelled at the Black stu­dent. I felt fear­ful and frozen, so again I did noth­ing. If I had spo­ken out, I might have pre­vented the Black stu­dent from a pun­ish­ment he in no way de­served.

I am now in my seven­ties and still have vivid mem­o­ries of that event. I know I was only in the sec­ond grade, but I had two chances to right a wrong and I failed to act in both cases. I’ve learned that I must act-inthe-mo­ment when I’m aware some­one is falsely ac­cused. I must speak out when I see a wrong oc­cur­ring and re­mem­ber­ing that in­ci­dent helps me do that. The cost of si­lence can be a very high price for more than only my­self.

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