During our early teens, my friend, Lori, and I spent many Friday nights at the Deleta Skating rink. We’d lace up our skates, kick our shoes under a bench and venture out onto the wooden floor, grasping walls until our legs adjusted to movement on wheels. Then we’d begin to move with the flow, around and around while the music from a jukebox was broadcast from overhead speakers.
A song would end and somebody would put another dime into the jukebox. Then we’d hear it, the lone keyboard playing the familiar tune. Soon a cowbell and snare drum joined, and then the lead singer of 3 Dog Night: “The ink is black, the page is white. Together we learn to read and write.”
The floor would fill as skaters rushed to the beckoning music and we’d all move in unison with the music flowing through our legs. Around and around, “A child is black, a child is white, the whole world looks upon the sight; a beautiful sight.”
We moved to the music, creating our own breezes, forgetting about grudges, pet-peeves, or social classes, while the lyrics flowed through our souls. “The world is black, the world is white. It turns by day and then by night.”
The song was inspired by the United States Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education that outlawed racial segregation of public schools. The original folk song was first recorded by Sammy Davis Jr. in 1957. The original lyrics of the song opened with this verse:
“Their robes were black, Their heads were white, The schoolhouse doors were closed so tight, Nine judges all set down their names, To end the years and years of shame.”
I grew up in an era that was learning that the color of a person’s skin or their religion or economic background did not determine whether or not they were your friend. As children we accepted that those factors were not relevant. And many of us became adults without bigotry.
But lately, I see things changing again. People are being attacked based on the old prejudices. Labels are being applied. Beneath the veneer of political debates, attacks based on nothing more than ethnicity or religious belief are being levied.
Then I find myself singing the old song, “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.”
It comes from a time when we listened to “Take it Easy,” by the Eagles, “Reelin’ in the Years,” by Steely Dan, and “You are the Sunshine of My Life,” by Stevie Wonder. The clock radio my sisters and I sang along to in our bedroom did not differentiate whether the artist was black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Muslim, Born Again Christian, or Mormon. At school, when we sang, “He’s got the whole world in His hands,” we didn’t stop to debate what concept of God that meant to each other.
“I’d like to see the world for once all standing hand in hand, and hear them echo through the hills for peace throughout the land.”
Maybe it’s time to bring back jukeboxes and the flow of skating in unison.
The world is black, the world is white
It turns by day and then by night
A child is black, a child is white
Together they grow to see the light, to see the light
Watch “Black and White” here.