I can remember when our upper east Tennessee high school was desegregated - 1966. Not sure of why it took that long. I think there was a plan to begin integration in the elementary schools and do it by increments.
Whatever. I recall seeing the new black kids, all neatly dressed (some carried brief cases, which we white guys thought odd.) But, what I noticed was the fear I saw in some of their eyes.
So, I introduced myself to Clarence. Now, we did not become best friends, but we had at least a level of human interaction and just maybe, he was a little less afraid.
Clarence was killed in Viet Nam a few years later, as was a white acquaintance - Joe Mead.
Growing up 40+ years ago, I can say without equivocation that life was better, people were kinder, family and neighborhood bonds were stronger. For all of the turmoil of the '60s, with its civil rights movement, political assassinations and the Vietnam War, America was stronger and more united than it is today.
To find a way forward toward a better future, I believe we need to connect more with our past.
As a small step, you might consider visiting Washington, DC: go to the Vietnam Memorial wall, and find Clarence's name there. You can look it up online at the memorial website and discover what panel it is on.
I did the same with people I knew in high school who never made it back to the World, and it was a profoundly moving experience for me.
I was born into an Army family in 1953. It was the Eisenhower years and the military was ahead of the civilian culture with desegregation. By the time I was old enough to walk and talk, that sub-culture was fairly well color blind.
Until the age of ten, I hardly noticed that I was ‘different’. When I did, it was nothing more than a passing curiosity. It was only later in my adolescence that others forced my attention onto my skin color. The world has been doing it ever since, but I couldn’t fixate my identity on race if I tried. I’m just me, and refuse to be a mere hunk of meat.