SLAVE DAY 1976 - The following is part of a series of articles written by Michael Leavitt about his real life experiences at Washington Irving Junior High School in Los Angeles, California from 1974-1976. The events are true and have been documented to help Michael's family better understand the racial tensions he endured during that era. And even amidst the turmoil, good times were plentiful and proof that even when you are given the sourest of lemons you can still make a great lemonade. If you haven't read the previous entries, then I invite you to enjoy them when you have time.
“DAD, WHAT WAS IT REALLY LIKE FOR YOU IN JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL?”
CHAPTER 14 - SLAVE DAY 1976
Before you jump down my throat regarding the political incorrectness of "Slave Day" and how tasteless and inappropriate a day named to celebrate slavery, just take a deep breath and go back with me to another era. This is a cherished memory, and I share it hopefully with those who will also appreciate the event in my life.
THE CONCEPT - As a 9th grader at Washington Irving Junior High School, a day was set aside where girls could select you to be their slave, and another day where the boys could choose a girl to be their slave. I remember that we all looked forward to the event, because it was reserved for only 9th graders.
Not a thought was given as to how wrong slavery was in U.S. history. No thought was given to how it might offend the black students and employees in our school. No thought was given to how offensive the name or concept might be. Instead, weeks of preparation went into selecting who was going to be chosen as your slave and coming up with ideas as the what we could get them to do throughout the day. This is a dangerous thing for a mind like mine because I had seen what others had done in the two years prior, and I was able to let my mind wander and create.
THE SELECTION - I have no memory of how the selection process went. I don't know if we bought tickets, signed up, or just asked. I don't remember if the girl chosen could refuse the invitation, or if it was first come, first served... Maybe others can fill in those details in my forgetful mind. What I do remember is that Diane Drummond was my dream choice. She had been my off and on again crush since I first gazed at her from across the classroom in 7th grade. Whatever the steps that were required, she became my slave for a school day in 1976.
PREPARATION - Yes, I envisioned many wonderful things that could be done throughout the day. For some reason I thought she would make the most adorable Snoopy dog without fear of her being labeled a "Dog", which was the biggest insult the boys could rudely label a girl in those days. I had to think about how to do it, but in such a way that it would be a very special memory, and in no way degrading or demeaning. I remember others discussing how mean they were going to be to their slaves and all of the bad things they were going to make them do. I remember that the last thing I wanted to do was be mean to Diane, so I set forth on my plan.
RIFLE ALERT - THE DAY OF - Going to school on Slave Day found me first riding my skateboard along with a big bag of "stuff" along with a replica toy military rifle to my early morning religion class over in Highland Park at 6 AM. At 6:50 I then went to the bus stop, rifle on my shoulder, with my skateboard and bag of "stuff" in hand while I rode the first bus down York Blvd. I then caught the second bus on Eagle Rock Blvd. and somehow missed the one that Diane would have been riding. I got off the bus alone and made the long walk through the neighborhood with the rifle still on my shoulder.
NOTE: If that same scenario played out today, the FBI would have been waiting for me and Washington Irving would have been put on a total lock down.
I arrived at school, walked into homeroom and was summoned to the Principal's office, along with my rifle. It was then that I found out that neighbors had called the school to alert them that a rifle toting student was headed their way. Yes the M1 rifle was confiscated immediately (I got it back at the end of the day). The fact that it was just a big block of wood with cheapo metal trigger and barrel attached made little difference. I believe that I just figured that a slave owner needed a rifle to maintain order, in case the slave wanted to escape. Seems logical.... Well at least it did back in 1976.
MY SLAVE - Diane Drummond was the absolute greatest slave. She did not refuse any of my requests that day. She was hesitant to a few, but she playfully did all that was required of her. I look back on it now and think of what a great test of character this was for her. It was as though I was putting her through a test for a future spouse... I was outgoing and needed an equal that could keep up and not be intimidated when the spotlight shown upon her. Diane could have complained , but she did not. She could have been miserable, but she was not. She could have endured the day and then never spoken to me again, but that did not happen. Instead, Diane trustingly went along with what was planned and made it a very enjoyable experience. Looking at the bigger picture through my 53 year old eyes, all of these events in our younger years prepare us for when we later select a spouse. If there were a score card for young love, Diane scored high in every category excepting we were only 15 years old. Diane showed me some of the qualities that I would want to look for in my later courting years as I selected a wife.
SNOOPY - Think back to the traditional slightly off white cheapo thermal underwear from yesteryear. Yes, we had thermal undewrwear in Southern California and to create Snoopy Diane had to put on thermal underwear bottoms, a white T-shirt, and then black paper spots were stuck all over her body. Of course there was a leash involved and Diane then became the cutest Snoopy ever.
THE DOG SHOW - At lunchtime we staged a Dog Show and of course it was a bit rigged. Snoopy was asked to do all sorts of tricks, that ultimately garnered her a blue ribbon. Who other but Snoopy could have won? I had made the blue ribbon especially for Diane out of blue velvet pipe cleaners, construction paper and custom writing. I look back on it, and this creativity came right through my Mother. She taught me how to use what we had in our home to create exactly what we needed. Mom always taught me how to make things by hand out of love. Sure, I probably could have gone somewhere and bought a ribbon, but that was never, and to this day, is not my style.
Diane just shared the photo of the ribbon with me (January 8, 2015), and my mind raced back to that day. I am amazed at how those seeds of creativity were firmly instilled when I was 15. If I needed a blue ribbon today, I would probably make it and write on it to personalize it just the way I did back then. It would be a bit more polished, from years of experience, but it would be worked on until it was just what I wanted. Seeing Diane's ribbon photo reminded me a lot about me in 1976. I carry with me those same talents and desires today. And I know the depth of care and detail I went through then. I wanted that day to be so special, and so memorable for Diane that it was worth all of the time I took preparing for it.
SLAVE PERSPECTIVE - I would love to hear what Diane's memories are of that day/era. I wonder what kind of impression was left. I would love to learn what details she has carefully stored away in her memory banks. I am almost afraid to ask her because it may have just been a one-sided special event, and that would be absolutely crushing to learn that it had no impact on her. It is interesting though, because as I relive the memories while I type I am starting to feel vulnerable and cautious, just like I did at age 15... Amazing!... Why are my eyes watering as I type???... But obviously it did leave some impact because my handmade treasure made it into her scrapbook, and that makes me feel awesome right now! These feelings are pretty cool!
IN CONCLUSION - Slave Day 1976 was an awesome memory maker for me. It is a shame we did not have cell phones with cameras and videos back then, because we could have captured some very special moments. Instead, these memories are etched into my soul and helped shape me into the person I am today. And for that, no matter how inappropriate the concept, I am so glad that we were allowed to have Slave Day back in 1976.
Thanks for letting me share this special junior high school memory with you! I would love to learn about your memories of Slave Day at Washington Irving Junior High School. Michael Leavitt - Orem, Utah - Michael@TheHomeInspector.com
What are your Washington Irving "Slave Day" memories?
NOTE: Washington Irving Junior High School was 7th, 8th, and 9th grades during my 1974-76 tenure. I see that it is now named Washington Irving Middle School and features 6th, 7th, and 8th grades.
NOTE 2: Washington Irving has changed again. The internet shows it is now called the Irving Magnet School and is painted white and vibrant blue and features grades 5th through 8th. LINK
FIRST COMMENT: My 19 year old daughter Haily came in, looked at my screen with the blue ribbon, briefly heard the verbal account of Slave Day and said, "Oh my gosh, Dad. You would do the exact same thing today. That is soooo crazy! You are just the same!!!" Haily is so right... Make it a great day!!!