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Paul Coates -- Confidential File, January 16, 1959

January 16, 2009 |  2:00 pm


Someday, Butch H., Try to Be Forgiving

Paul_coates_3 Some stories I'd rather not print.

And when I first heard about what a bunch of grown men and women were doing to a kid named Butch Harris, I filed the information into that category.

It was a little too unbelievable, too grimy, to put in a newspaper.

That was three months ago. At the time, Butch and some classmates of his had accepted an invitation to all boys at 87th Street School, here in downtown, to join the Cub Scouts.

But not Butch. He was ignored -- subtly like a sledge hammer.

The 9-year-old -- according to some mothers and fathers of the kids in local Cub Pack 298 -- wasn't the "right kind" to be associated in Scouting with their sons.

1959_0116_red_streak Butch was an average kid, well-mannered, well-dressed. But he was a Negro.

I checked out the story, verifying every fact of it. But for nearly two months, I didn't print a word. I waited, hoping that the parents of the other kids would reconsider.

But the longer I waited the more obvious it became that certain powerful influences in the pack weren't going to do anything.

The boy's mother had been informed flatly that since Butch was a Negro he was unwelcome.

Finally, five weeks ago, I got tired of waiting. I wrote about Butch's problem.

Since then, I've been keeping in touch with the youngster, his parents, local Scouting executives and other interested parties -- hoping to reassure any doubters that, as it says in the Boy Scout pamphlets, "It doesn't make any difference what color skin a boy may have -- Scouting's hand of fellowship is extended to him."

1959_0116_slums I wanted to report a quick, happy ending to the boy's story.

But it didn't work out that way.

There were still some people -- some very vocal people -- in Pack 298 who refused to be "enlightened."

I'll say this. Local Scout officials worked practically night and day to convince the hard core of dissenters to get the boy into a den quietly and gracefully.

The sponsoring Kiwanis Club group did the same. So did the pack's club master, a manufacturing executive with three sons in the Scouting program.

But the dissenters chose to go out the hard way. A letter was circulated among parents by the pack chairman announcing a meeting to discuss mass resignation. The meeting was held and a woman's request to be den mother of a new den in which Butch could be a member was openly ignored by the membership committee.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, Butch did become a registered member of the pack. But there are still those blocking the formation of a den in which he can actively participate -- where he can go to meetings like the rest of the kids.

Butch, Here's to You

I've been promised by both Scout and Kiwanis leaders that the die-hards will get their ultimatum this week:

Either go along with the policies of both organizations or resign.

They've been told it before -- politely -- but they just didn't seem to understand polite language.

I've also been assured that by next week Butch will be wearing Cub Scout blue at his first den meeting.

So it may be a happy ending after all.
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