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Op-eds, Opinions

Moody P’97, Taylor P’86 P’90: The Not Totally Silent Generation

By and
Op-Ed Contributors
Sunday, September 27, 2020

James R. Moody and Sandy McFarland Taylor, co-presidents of the class of 1958, write about three contemporaries who inspire them, prompted by the Black Lives Matter movement.

One of the advantages of increased age is we can look back and see history — how things have changed over time. Those of us who came of age in the 1950s are sometimes called the Silent Generation. We came along too late to serve in World War II and too early for most of us to be swept up in either the social activism of the 1960s or the war in Vietnam. We could also be called the Luckiest Generation because the United States enjoyed an economic boom during most of our working lives.

On the whole, we cannot doubt that we have been privileged. This is not to say, however, that we all had it easy. For the people we discuss in this piece, any progress tended to be through individual — sometimes lonely — effort rather than collective activism.

In our day students could take no respite such as a “gap year” because Selective Service, a military requirement for young men not enrolled in college, was waiting for us. Many, if not most, of our male classmates served our country during the Cold War and possibly Vietnam before going out into the working world. Many of the women in our class — Pembrokers, back then — didn’t pursue their own careers, due to societal pressures and lack of opportunities, but moved immediately into married life and raising a family.

A few members of our Silent Generation nevertheless played quiet but effective roles in facing and addressing the problems of racial relations that have beset Americans since before we were a nation.

One member of our own class of 1958, Alfred Uhry P’83, developed a love of the theatre with Brownbrokers, Brown’s oldest student-run theatre group, and remained true to that love even when it kicked him in the face. The books and lyrics for a string of commercially unsuccessful musicals bore his name. One of his collaborations with our classmate Robert Waldman ’57 P’87 closed after a single performance on Broadway, for example, although that team later enjoyed success with “The Robber Bridegroom.”

Al Uhry’s big breakthrough didn’t come until three decades after graduation, when he applied the writing craft he had absorbed to memories of his grandmother and the Black man who had chauffeured her around Atlanta. His play “Driving Miss Daisy” opened successfully off Broadway and received the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for dramatic writing, and he turned it into a movie script that won him an Academy Award. The play and movie still enjoy worldwide fame for their insights on race relations, with powerful moral points made through gentle suasion. The movie is available on Prime Video, and we encourage you to watch it.

Bracketing our own class were two others with members who made their own memorable contributions to improving race relations. Augustus White ’57 P’98 and Wallace Terry ’59 knew each other, and many in our own class of 1958 are proud to say we knew them. We nominate their books to be added to the list of authoritative resources on race relations.

The first book we nominate is “Seeing Patients: A Surgeon’s Story of Race and Medical Bias” by Augustus A. White III, MD, Ph.D. Gus White was among only 16 Black students at Brown, by his count. But he was a football player, a wrestler and a decent student, so the fraternity brothers from Delta Upsilon — “a kind of academic jock house,” he has called it — came calling during rush week. He became its first Black member. The Brown chapter later elected him its president, but the annual international convention was canceled that year because its organizers didn’t want a Black man to lead a delegation. (Much later, the fraternity apologized and gave him an award.)

Gus went on from Brown to become the first African American to go to Stanford Medical School. As he writes in his book, Yale had told him it already had its Negro for that year, but he was welcome to try again next year. He got his shots at Yale anyway, becoming the first Black surgical resident at Yale and later a professor of medicine at the university. Later he became the first African American department head at a Harvard teaching hospital. Along the way he served as a U.S. Army battlefield surgeon in Vietnam, earning the Bronze Star and caring for people who suffer from leprosy in his off hours. His book shares that life story and the lessons about race and medical bias he has drawn from living it.

The second book we nominate is “Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Black Veterans” by Wallace Terry. The late Wallace Terry was the first Black editor of The Brown Daily Herald, where he made front-page national news by welcoming segregationist Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus to Providence with a handshake. From Brown he went on to report on civil rights protests in the South and the war in Vietnam for The Washington Post and Time magazine. Turning a 1967 cover story for Time into a book became an obsession for him, until finally “Bloods” was published in 1984. It tells the first-person stories of Black Americans who wore the uniform of this nation when it was under both the external stress of the war and the internal stress of civil disunity.

These pioneers we list deserve not only respect but attention to what they had to say. Respect and gratitude are due as well to those Brownbrokers who consciously or unconsciously encouraged Al Uhry to make the theatre his career, those Delta Upsilon fraternity brothers who encouraged Gus White to keep on breaking down racial barriers instead of going to a historically Black medical college as his father had, and those Herald staffers who encouraged Wally Terry to make journalism his life’s work. That kind of encouragement can be of assistance to the real heroes of this world, and we find quiet satisfaction in listing the works of these three contemporaries as resources on race relations.

James R. Moody P’97 and Sandy McFarland Taylor P’86 P’90 can be reached at jamesr.moody@gmail.com and sandymctaylor@aol.com respectively. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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