Once we were settled in Madison, Wisconsin in the student housing apartment we decided it was time to expand our family. We contacted the appropriate state office and signed up for an adoption. We were willing to consider a child of either sex or of any race. We were informed that there were twin Menominee Indian boys available and we said “Yes, we’ll take them.” We informed David that he would have two Native American brothers. He was excited but then the social worker informed us that the two Indian youths were placed with another family but they had a 3-year-old African-American child waiting for placement. His name was Todd. We accepted him. David greeted him with Indian war hoops. We had difficulty explaining that we did not get the Menominee boys, that Todd was an Afro-American. He loved him just the same.
Todd was a very introverted, quiet child. He was hiding a lot of hurt. He did not bond with Mary Ann, resisted having her hug him, would not sit on her lap, would not let her bathe him and would always run to me when upset. I had to bathe him. I had to dress him and try to get him playing with the other kids in our housing unit.
Mary Ann’s parents ran a dairy farm in central Wisconsin near the city of Wausau. When it was certain that we would be adopting Todd and we were visiting the farm we told Gertrude, Mary Ann’s mother, that she will be the grandmother of a boy we were adopting. “Goot” she responded. “He is Black, an Afro-American child.” I added. Gertrude was shocked and quickly asked “Vat vill the neighbors tink?’ (She was an immigrant from Dresden, Germany.) I told her “I will have to tell them that I can’t be home all the time and check up on what Mary Ann is up to.” I left Mary Ann to deal with her mother and went out to the barn to inform Fred who was of German heritage but born in America. After a bit of thought Fred accepted the fact that his new grandson was black but he added “Thank God he is not a Jew!” Ouch. Such prejudice!
The adoption papers had to be hurried up so we all could leave for South America where I was to do research for my Ph.D. dissertation. When we got to Manizales Todd refused to listen to anyone speaking Spanish. He would put his hands over his ears, shutting it out. No way was he going to get involved with that gibberish. Then one day when I came home from the university I heard someone talking Spanish in the boys bedroom. I snuck back there and found Todd talking Spanish to his blocks as he was building something with them. He went on to learn a bit of the language.
After my research was done in Colombia and after a short stint in Madison we moved to Bellingham where I was hired as a faculty member in the Sociology Department. David was enrolled in a school for the developmentally disabled and Todd was enrolled in the Silver Beach grammar school which was located about five blocks from our house. Soon Todd was coming home in tears. Kids in the school were picking on him, calling him “nigger” and saying his mother was a monkey, etc. Todd was getting into fights with kids several grades ahead of him. He was the first Afro-American child or child of any color to have entered the Silver Beach Grammar School. I would call the principal and raise hell and he would rely “We never had this problem before.” “No. You never had a Black student before.” I told him he had to do something about it, he had to educate the parents who then had to try to educate their kids.
Todd was also the first child of color in Whatcom Middle School. I asked him if life was any better there and he responded that he was no longer the school ‘nigger’. I said that was an improvement and he responded that he was now a ‘fucking nigger.’ Ah, yes, growing up in Bellingham. So again we had meetings with teachers and the principal. As far as we could find out there were no families of color in Bellingham. This town was WHITE and here we were causing trouble by trying to integrate the community.
Given Todd’s social standing in the schools he attended he ended up buddies with other kids who were at the bottom of the school shit list and there began his life of drugs and illegal behavior. Now at age 57 he is still trying to dump all that behavior and lead a more normal life. He has been a big help to me now as I near my 90th birthday.