In seventh grade I was still going to school in Richland, as the consolidated Eastern Lebanon County (Elco) school was a year from being completed.
My memory is a bit hazy, but I think I had a study period in Mr. Paine’s room once a week, and I usually sat next to a delightful girl named Carol Johnson.
Carol was a sophomore, who lived in Newmanstown, and (let me get this right) she attended classes in Richland because she was in the Business curriculum.
Oh, and Carol was Black. The only Black student in Eastern Lebanon County at that time, I think. (Of course, the terminology in those days was still Negro; that wouldn’t change until a few years later in 1967.)
While I can’t recall any specifics, I do remember having a lot of fun with Carol during those study sessions. She was a lot of fun to chat with, especially when Mr. Paine would leave the room from time to time.
After seventh grade I don’t recall seeing her any more, but I checked the yearbooks, and she did graduate in 1964.
Then when we went to the consolidated Elco school, for a few years there was a Black kid named Stewart Johnson in our class.
I never got to know him, as he was never in any of my classes, so I never formed any opinion of him one way or another.
It never even occurred to me until I started planning to write this post that Stewart and Carol were possibly related. Two Black kids in otherwise lily-white Lebanon County named Johnson? What are the odds they aren’t related?
Anyway, he wasn’t in our class during senior year, so I guess his family moved away.
So that kid who had been in my class in either first or second grade, Carol Johnson, and Stewart Johnson were the only Black people that I encountered on any kind of personal level before I set off for college.
Of course, I did encounter people of different races on my brief trips to New York City and other places, but I hardly got to know any of them. They were just cooks and janitors and bell hops and store clerks, etc.
According to the Wikipedia page for Richland, PA, in the 2000 census the population was 1508 with 0.33% being Black. If I did the arithmetic right, that comes to about 50 Black folks living in Richland by 2000.
The times they are a-changin’.