In the wake of June’s back-to-back Democratic presidential debates, the campaign has deteriorated into a “gotcha” contest more appropriate for a kids’ playground.

Some candidates appear to equate racial segregation with slavery.

Some seem not to recognize the progress created by the civil rights movement, and instead are determined to focus on what preceded it.

I once toyed with writing a book for my children, which I would have titled: “We didn’t hate each other; we didn’t even know each other.”

As a reporter at The Tallahassee Democrat from 1959 to 1962 — my sophomore, junior and senior years at FSU — I had a front row seat for the infancy of the civil rights movement.

I helped cover the aftermath of first lunch counter sit-in at the Tallahassee Woolworth’s in February 1960, and the arrival of the Freedom Riders on a Greyhound bus in June 1961.

The latter — 10 clergymen, some black, some white; some Catholic, some Protestant, some Jewish — rode from Washington to Tallahassee, eating at what had been segregated lunch counters along the way.

After eating at the Tallahassee Greyhound station, they were arrested when they tried to eat at the Tallahassee Municipal Airport restaurant. Opened only a few weeks earlier, it was one of Tallahassee’s best restaurants, but was shut down just before the Freedom Riders arrived because of some undefined “equipment failure.”

One of the most bizarre racial controversies of the day occurred in the Democratic primary run-off for governor in 1960 between Farris Bryant and Doyle Carleton.

Each candidate accused the other of meeting at dinners with black leaders to seek their support for their respective campaigns. At last, both confessed that they had indeed attended meetings.

But one asserted that he had remained standing while discussing his candidacy, while his opponent had actually sat down and eaten with members of the opposite race. This, he suggested, entitled him to the segregationist high ground.

To those who consider that as a society we have made no progress in injecting sanity into race relations over the past 60 years, I offer this gubernatorial donnybrook as evidence to the contrary.

(S. L. Frisbie is retired. His personal racial epiphany occurred on the last day of ROTC summer camp at Fort Benning, Ga., in 1961. All the FSU students headed to the parking lot to their cars, and the FAMU students — few if any of whom owned cars — headed to the bus station. An FSU student offered a ride to a FAMU student, who reluctantly accepted. He started to get into the back seat, as was the custom of the day. The FSU student glared at him and said, “My FRIENDS ride in the front seat.”)


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