Letter from Hershey Park
Here you go Colin,
My first encounter with black people that I will never forget.
I grew up in the Anthracite Coal Region of Pennsylvania. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, where we lived, there were zero people of color. Whether in school or around town I had no interaction with people of color and really had no opinion of them.
Back then, we always had at least one school field trip every year. In fifth grade, around 1970, our field trip was going to be to Hershey Park which I was excited about. My family didn’t have much money and didn’t get around too much so I had never been there. I remember my mom saving up to give me about $20 for the trip to cover food and ride tickets which I really appreciated because it was a lot of money at the time.
I remember that it was a late afternoon/evening trip. When we got off the bus my classmates who were fortunate enough to have been there before knew the routine and scrambled ahead to get their tickets and head off to the rides because we didn’t have a lot of time. I got separated from my friends and was by myself when I bought my tickets.
As I left the ticket stand I was counting the tickets in my hand and next thing I know I’m getting punched in the side and back of the head, my glasses got knocked off and as I turn to see who’s attacking me there’s a black person ripping all of the tickets and my money out of my hand while someone else is knocking me to the ground. It happened so fast and by multiple assailants – I was overwhelmed. While I was stunned I still had the presence of mind to try and get a look at who did this to me while they ran away.
There were 8 of them, all black and all at least high school age or more. All of them were way bigger than me since I was only 10 years old at the time. I was basically mugged by 8 big black guys – extreme black on white violence.
Fortunately some teachers who were chaperones witnessed this and got me up. I was bleeding and banged up a little and they cleaned me up. When I told them they stole all of my tickets and money and I didn’t know what I was going to do now, they said they were prepared for that and had some money from the PTA to give me for more tickets and some food. I remember them telling me that this happened a lot and even though they reported it they were probably not going to catch them.
I wished they would have given us a warning about that ahead of time, maybe they did, but it probably didn’t register because most of us had no idea what it was like being white in a predominantly black area.
I heard these incidents were occurring so often that it caused Hershey Park to switch to a general admission scheme rather than a individual ride ticket scheme. Boy, did I learn some lessons that day. Don’t trust groups of black people, don’t travel alone, keep your valuables out of sight, watch your back, don’t put all of your eggs in one basket, hide your money in multiple locations when you’re walking around, etc.
I really appreciate what you are doing, it takes a lot of guts to report the truth like you do in today’s political and social climate. I have a few personal stories about Baltimore and some other areas I’ll have to right up for you. I know you’re right on this, it’s been happening for a long time and it’s still happening in more areas now, even in NE PA.