Addendum Post June 23, 2019
This is a tribute to Jumpin’ Jackie Jackson who died May 4th, 2019. He was Michael Jordan before there was a “MJ,” only most people still don’t know Jumpin’ Jackie Jackson, as his thin wiki site shows. Maybe they will know him now with his life story coming out. I knew “JJJ” up close, personal and physical, before I knew who he was or would become in the pantheon of basketball greats. Here’s how I knew him.
It was summer and I had just finished my freshman year at The College of William and Mary on a full basketball scholarship. Sixty miles west of the W&M campus in Williamsburg, Virginia was Virginia Union University, and Jackie Jackson was either just about to enter or complete his freshman year. Either way, he would leave after one year during which he shattered school basketball records and have his number retired. He had been recruited from famed “Rucker Basketball” in Brooklyn where he played until shortly becoming a pro.
We were the same 6’4” height and weight in college, but that is where the semblance ended. Before I would read decades later of his amazing leaping ability and basketball career with the original Harlem Globetrotters, I experienced his extraordinary talent directly in weekly 5 on 5 full-court basketball games during our first summer when we were both naive ultra-competitive freshmen in college.
That personal experience included him leaping over me on fast breaks (yes, plural times), as I positioned myself near the free-throw line to block his shot, only to see his legs part slightly as he sailed over my head to slam the ball through the rim at his eye level with both hands in a thunderous dunk! Every time this happened echos of my Mom’s wisdom rang in my brain: “If it doesn’t kill you it will make you better.”
And it didn’t and I did learn. But more than making me become a better basketball player, my life “Traveling in Caucasian” would never be the same. I personally experienced a talent in something I loved (and was pretty good at) that was completely beyond my potential, yet I cherished the intense and fair competition and learning immensely. The “TIC” handle is a personal reminder of this fact of life; It came to me some years later from a memorable experience my son shared with me when he was then 18 in the area he loved, music.
Michael is a professional musician having been hooked on creating/performing music since he was 13. He was playing in jazz clubs as an 18 year old up and down the East Coast, and early on was invited with an african american friend to play with him at a gig in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Michael was the only white musician in the band playing in a venue of several hundred African Americans. When I asked him how it went, he matter-of-factly said, “Good. When it came time to introducing me the event host said this with a twinkle of humor: “…and on guitar this evening please give a warm welcome to Michael Harris, traveling in caucasian, direct from D.C.”
Original Post May 14, 2014
It is one thing to travel in incognito where the public doesn’t know who you really are or what you really think, but when you travel “in Caucasian” and make racists comments in the digisphere like Clipper’s owner Donald Sterling did last week, the bright lights of social media will reveal your true colors. What is it about color? (BLACK is the absorption of all colors and WHITE is the reflection of all colors.)
The Sterling debacle made me want to revisit some of my life experiences as a Caucasian former college basketball player. I played for William and Mary where I once helped hold Jerry West to 44 points when unranked W&M beat #4 nationally ranked West Virginia 94 to 86. Our team and ll the teams we played were Caucasian players. W&M, a public college and the second oldest university in America founded in 1693 after Harvard in 1636, was not open to African Americans until the early 1970s, 16 years after the 1954 Brown ruling establishing that separate public schools for black and white students were unconstitutional. The essay at this link from the 1970s was written by an one of the first African American W&M students, and was critical of W&M. It was removed by W&M sometime in 2015 after
I had been unaware of the importance of this until my room-mate, Kirk Gooding, and I decided to schedule weekly basketball games during the summer at W&M with a nearby college the same year we beat WVU. We and other members of our team plus a few summer students that could play ball, held weekly full court games competing against a neighboring school close by in Richmond, Virginia—Virginian Union College, a school of predominantly African American students. These weekly games were free; 2-hour highly competitive full-court competitions with referees were held in our respective college gyms. Our games began to build an attendance at W&M during the slow summer months when tourists flooded the city. We alternated our weekly games between Williamsburg and Richmond.
A great time was had by all. We usually lost because their best players were much better than our best players (me and Kirk). One of their players, Jackie Jackson, leaped like Michael Jordan with flying dunks from the free throw line and played pro ball after college. After we played in Richmond, we would eat dinner together at their restaurants. When we played in Williamsburg, they could not eat with us at our segregated restaurants. We became friends anyway and enjoyed each other’s company regardless of politics we did not really understand.
Then one day late that summer Kirk and I were called into the president’s office. Davis Young Paschall had been recently appointed by the board of this state-supported educational institution. He looked embarrassed and as he slowly and firmly told us we could no longer play our basketball games in the college gym because the games were getting too much public attention. When I asked “what public” he said in addition to locals and tourists, the “board of education,” thinks we are getting too much attention; he looked down sadly as he said this, ashamed to look us in the eye.
Until that moment we were essentially color blind. Now fully aware of the impact of color, we realized that we would be traveling in Caucasian for the rest of our lives. I am reminded of this event every year when I crumple the envelope containing the W&M alumni funding request and toss it into the nearest wastebasket.
There are many more things I want to say about the curious nature of color, but that will have to wait for another day.