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poetry In 1968, My Parents Were Still Negroes—

Los Angeles poet Lynne Thompson traces the generation gap of the 1960s and the transition of naming from Negro to Black.

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In 1968, My Parents Were Still Negroes—

By Lynne Thompson

 

even when Lyndon Baines signed the Civil

Rights Act, my parents were still Negroes

who would never mourn for Malcolm X

the way they would mourn for Doctor King.

 

They were still Negroes because despite My Lai,

their son was career military. Despite the Prague

Spring, they still watched Wagon Train and could

i.d. every has-been on What’s My Line? In 1968,

 

a minor pop star, Frankie Lymon, overdosed—

heroin—but my parents were still Negroes in

love with Nat King Cole and NBC. While nerve

gas leaked near Skull Valley, did my folks know

 

people freed themselves in Mauritius? In Phong

Nhat, there was a massacre but Rowan & Martin

kept on laughin’. I graduated high school the year

Sirhan killed Bobby but my parents were still

 

Negroes when I left for college, knowing three

students were killed in an all-white bowling alley,

South Carolina.  But A Space Odyssey premiered;

Hair debuted on Broadway & my parents, orthodox

 

Negroes, didn’t get the Beatles or why students were

rioting in Paris.  They were cheered by a Manchester

team winning the European Cup but remained mute

when Pope Paul VI condemned a little white pill.

 

My parents were still Negroes that August but watched

Chicago’s convention in horror: Jerry Rubin, the Guard,

the Democrats and Daly—all the world reading his lips:

…you Jew sons of bitches…motherfuckers…go home!

 

Still, my parents were Negroes because they were no

longer niggers; because my Daddy drove a long, black

Cadillac and we lived on a cedar-lined street right next

to a white man from Georgia. White South Africans

 

 

excluded the Marylebone Cricket Club just as women

protested Miss America. When the Irish troubles got

worse and the 19th Olympiad cold-cocked Mexico City,

my parents didn’t feel less Negro because John Carlos,

 

head bowed, raised his fist.  But I did. The Rodney Riots

rocked Jamaica. The Queen of Soul won Respect. At Yale,

women enrolled and Miss Chisholm got the votes.  In 1968,

my parents were still Negroes.  They never would be again.

 

 

Lynne Thompson is the author of three chapbooks and won the 2018 Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize for Fretwork (2019); see marshhawkpress.org.  She also authored Start With A Small Guitar (whatbookspress.com) and Beg No Pardon, winner of the Perugia Press Book Award (perugiapress.com) and the Great Lakes Colleges Association’s New Writers Award. She is the recipient of an Artist’s Fellowship from the City of Los Angeles and Special Mention in the 2018 Pushcart Prizes. Thompson’s poetry appears or is forthcoming in Pleiades, Colorado Review, Ploughshares, Nelle, and the New England Review; her prose is included in Jane Cooper, A Radiance of Attention issued by the University of Michigan Press (2019). Follow these links to find examples of her work: www.poetrynw.org and www.poetryfoundation.org.