Column- Race dominates discussions

Published 4:32 pm Tuesday, May 2, 2023

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The topic of school integration continued through 1956. In the first week of January, several stories covered the front page regarding the “Gray plan.” The Gray plan was the name for the proposed amendment that would permit the state to issue tuition grants to students for attendance at private, nonsectarian schools rather than integrated public schools. 

Racial integration debates and arguments spread from schools to churches. One such story detailing the heated discussions in the Methodist church stated “The conflict resurrected shadows of century-old lines that once divided the church, North and South.” Another minister was quoted as saying, “I pray to God that this racial flag will be brought down, that we will march on as one army of the living God under the banner of Jesus Christ.”

Front-page stories over the next several months would highlight the same discussion in every house of worship in the city. 

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Other discussions of policy change in the Lutheran church revolved around the remarriage of divorced people. The church wiped out its arbitrary restrictions against second marriages and ushered in a new policy to gauge each case by broader principles. Divorce violates God’s law, the pronouncement said, but God forgives lawbreakers if they repent. “If God forgives, we also should forgive,” declared Dr. Martin J. Heinecken of Lutheran Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, in supporting the less stringent approach to remarriage.  

While schools at every level wrestled with integration, the State Board of Higher Education was created to help coordinate events and activities between state colleges as well as to avoid duplication of efforts in the curriculum.

Nationally, technology made significant breakthroughs, often for use in war or the prevention of war. 

An electronic brain was made a key part of the plan for spotting enemy attacks. A complex system called SAGE, semi automatic ground environment, was in the prototype phase. This system used computing machines, radar and communication equipment working together to automatically and almost instantaneously provide information needed for waging air battles.

While the Salk vaccine for polio was determined to be 85% effective and made readily available to combat the polio epidemic, another disease plagued Suffolk.

Measles season produced an epidemic in Suffolk with more than 400 cases. Absenteeism from elementary schools was at double its normal level. According to one doctor, measles returns to an area in force every 2-3 years. This occurs when a new group of children, not immunized by exposure, comes along to catch and spread the disease. 

Mrs. Harrison Butler was celebrated in March for turning 100. “A sprightly little lady with freshly-permanente white curls bustled about her Chestnut Street rooms with the spirit of a girl celebrating her ‘‘sweet sixteen’ birthday.”

Comparing life then with when she was a girl, Mrs. Butler implied that people are losing the art of communication. “We used to sit on the porch at night, embroidering and talking. Today,’’ she said, “people go too much and they go too fast. They talk on the phone though. They talk too much then. They go on for an hour at a time and you can’t even use the phone yourself.’’