CAMP ANECDOTES: THE FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN STAFF MEMBER
by Greg Tucker
I’m not absolutely sure, but I believe in 1967 was when we had our first black staff member and he was put in Parnell. There may have been one over in Stahlman, but I seem to recall that Parnell was picked as the camp. And I guess we were flattered (at least it was presented that way). As you can imagine, we were prepared extensively and told that nothing was going to happen and there wasn’t going to be any problems.
I can remember our first work day when we got together. The boy was part of the group and we were doing the usual unloading beds, mattresses up on the back of a big cattle truck, loaded up like we don’t do today. Our rules were different back then. We were hanging all over this truck. And he was working with us. We might also have had the back of an open wagon behind one of the tractors. We were doing the usual thing around the campsite. Very hot, early June, very bright, sunny.
We loaded up in the truck and were waiting, perhaps while whoever was driving [took] a break or something. And someone pulled out a thing of suntan lotion and started squirting it on and rubbing it on them. Remember our objective then was not to avoid the sun, but to make sure the sun turned us brown. We would rub on the cocoa butter or basting cream or whatever it was. And someone said, “Give me some of that.” And there was some general small talk about how you, during the first of the summer, are always getting burned, so it was getting passed around. The black fellow hadn’t said a word, and we had all appreciated that he was certainly working up to any standard we might have. He hadn’t said a word and I don’t think anyone had a said a word to him up to that point. And he looked up and said, “Hey, give me some of that stuff. I need some of that stuff. I’m afraid this sun’s going to make me too dark,” or something to that effect. And we all laughed, threw him the bottle and he made a big deal out of rubbing that on and asking the guy next to him if he’d gotten it everywhere. He sure didn’t want to get any darker.
And that broke the ice. The rest of that day we were cutting up and playing and teasing him and him responding. He was very much a part of the group.