Clif Hostetler's Reviews > Some of My Best Friends Are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America

Some of My Best Friends Are Black by Tanner Colby
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review

liked it
bookshelves: history

This book provides an insightful history into the American experience of attempted integration of the races. It does so by examining four aspects of everyday life—school, neighborhood, workplace, and church. Within these four sub-histories are revealed an abundance to good intentions, some success, plenty of unintended consequences, but many failures. There is much to ponder in this book of lessons learned and useful information that can perhaps be used toward bridging of racial divisions in the future.

The author, Colby, features himself as an example of the failures of post 60s racial integration. He is a product of twelve years of theoretically integrated public primary and secondary education that was integrated in compliance with the Brown v. Board of Education ruling. He decided "to write a book about why I didn't know any black people." He admits that he actually does have one black acquaintance, but it so happens that he hadn't spoken to her for the past seventeen years. As part of preparation for writing this book he located this past African American school classmate of his and interviewed her. The vignette in this book about this black acquaintance was a fascinating story in and of itself.

He describes the history of busing for the purpose of integration at his alma mater, a high school in the suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama. He visits his old school district to find out whether the black kids and the white kids still sit at different tables in the lunchroom. In the suburban school he found signs of racial integration between friends and activities that didn't exist when he went to school there. However, the inner city schools are now nearly all black.

To explore the history of housing integration, Colby investigates the history of blockbusting, redlining, and racial covenants in Kansas City, Missouri. He also describes how one neighborhood (49/63 Coalition Inc.) was able to successfully fight white-flight and urban blight by finding liberal minded white folks who were not afraid of black neighbors. While reading this section I was impressed with their apparent success, but was shocked when the chapter ended with these words.
There was only one hitch to the whole 49/63 integration experiment: nobody made any black friends.
There was a social and cultural divide between the white urban professionals (many UMKC faculty) who dominated the neighborhood meetings and their black neighbors.

Colby is a former adman so it's not surprising that he decided to investigate Madison Avenue as an example of racial integration in the workplace. One difficulty with the advertising profession is that there is no licensing procedure as with some other professions. Thus hiring of new talent has traditionally been done through the "good old boy" network which resulted in a non-diverse workforce. The book describes how early in the civil rights era there were hiring quotas utilized because of pressure exerted by the NAACP. Later there were efforts at contracting with minority owned ad agencies encouraged by Federal laws. But the separation of ad agencies into their abilities to reach various racial groups creates its own problems because it emphasizes cultural differences rather than commonalities.

Next the book reported on the 40-year-long history of a Louisiana parish's efforts to integrate two Roman Catholic churches located blocks apart—one black, the other white. Their ultimately successful integration was a significant accomplishment because it overcame a history of self-segregation perpetuated by decades of silence and mistrust. It actually required an act of God to finally do it. (view spoiler) After learning about the time, effort, and work that was required to finally achieve successful integration, it's not surprising to learn that the vast majority of Catholic Church parishes in Louisiana remain segregated. Ironically, Catholic churches in Louisiana were originally integrated and reluctantly divided into separate buildings after Jim Crow laws appeared during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

I was impressed with this Parish's mission statement, which in order to help make it sink into the hearts of the parishioners, they recite in unison along with the Apostle's Creed
We of St Charles Parish desire:
To be one family in service to God and to each other.
To be one people through worship, reconciliation, and renewal who are present to the needs of all God's people.
To be a community that in faith welcomes all to be one with us in the Love of God.
... ... ...
There are additional lines to the mission statement, but I'm limiting the quotation to these lines because they explicitly address the concepts of family and community. I can imagine that anytime a member of that church feels miffed at the actions of another member, they pause and remember the mission statement, and draw on an extra measure of patience and acceptance.
20 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Some of My Best Friends Are Black.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

February 26, 2019 – Started Reading
February 26, 2019 – Shelved
March 3, 2019 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Caroline (new)

Caroline A great review of a very interesting-sounding book.

"There was only one hitch to the whole 49/63 integration experiment: nobody made any black friends. " Did the author discuss this any more, or voice any ideas about why this happened? I have heard over the years that proximity more than anything else encourages friendships - so this would seem very odd.

message 2: by Clif (last edited Mar 04, 2019 01:45PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Clif Hostetler Caroline wrote: "A great review of a very interesting-sounding book.

"There was only one hitch to the whole 49/63 integration experiment: nobody made any black friends. " Did the author discuss this any more, or..."

That was an abrupt ending to a chapter which was probably intended to motivate the reader to go on to the next chapter and see what he meant. Actually, what he was saying was that they couldn't get blacks to participate in the association. Below is an excerpt from the beginning of the next chapter.
Despite being the leading proponent of residential integration in Kansas City, 49/63 itself was white, almost entirely white. Father Jim Bluemeyer remembers exactly what happened when the group first tried to move beyond that. "When we started," he says, "we brought in some black people, good people, and they just thought we were crazy. They said, "This won't work. Integrated neighborhood? You're dreaming."

Even as the coalition ramped up, black residents opted out. The few who did participate did so sparingly, and rarely for very long. "We didn't have a lot," Ed Hood says, "and it was very difficult to get them involved."

"I doubt if we had six," Gene Hardy says of the group's black volunteers, including himself. Most of the time, he was the only one there. "Blacks chose not to participate," he says. "A lot of it was a lack of education and a lack of understanding. Maureen was on the board, but I worked fifteen hours a day, and then I took the time at night and went to the meetings. It's a sacrifice to do something like that."
I have some friends who know the people involved with the 49/63 group. They actually called one of the couples when they learned while reading this book that they had been interviewed. I think they called Gene and Maureen referenced above (Gene is black, Maureen white). They were invited to attend a book group meeting to discuss this book, but they declined due to health issues.

message 3: by Caroline (last edited Mar 04, 2019 03:25PM) (new)

Caroline Many thank for giving such a long and detailed extract, and also for your thoughts on the matter. How sad that things didn't work out better. Perhaps it speaks of the power of the history of black and white relations in America. I imagine these histories can be very difficult to overcome, even if people have good intentions.

message 4: by June (new)

June Thank you, Clif, for another good book review. I hope to read this book, too. june

back to top