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White mothers bar black child from Cub Scouts, December 10, 1958

January 17, 2009 |  8:00 pm


Who Wants to Kick Little Butch Harris?

Paul_coates_2 This is a personal column. Personal to a group of young mothers who probably consider themselves pretty typical American parents.

They're the mothers of 8, 9 and 10-year-old Cub Scouts in Thunderbird Pack No. 298, here in town.

The rest of you can read on, if you'd like. Or you can turn to the comics. Unfortunately, they might be a little more enlightening than what I'm going to talk about.

Besides, what I want to say, I want to say directly to the small group of mothers whose sons are in Pack No. 298.

The subject, ladies, in case you haven't guessed, is a 9-year-old named Butch Harris.

You know him. If not personally -- at least for the color of his skin.

Butch Harris is a Negro.

He's a handsome little kid, well-dressed, well-mannered and smart.

He's the kid you ganged up on not long ago. Remember? The hushed meetings after he tried to accept your invitation to ALL boys at 87th Street School to join your Cub Scout pack?

That was more than two months ago. And Butch took you a little too literally. He thought you meant -- like it says in the Scout pamphlet I have on my desk:

"It makes no difference whether he's a fat boy, a skinny boy, a tall boy or a short boy -- no difference where his mom and dad were born, what their family bank account might be, or what church they attend.

"Nor does it make any difference what color skin a boy might have -- Scouting's hand of fellowship is extended to him."

That's what the pamphlet says. And I guess Butch's mom and dad took it literally, too.

They told Butch -- who's their only child, incidentally -- that, yes, they'd get him a uniform. It would be alright if he joined. It would be a good, wholesome experience for him.

Now, before I remind you of exactly what you did to freeze Butch out, I'm going to tell you what he's been doing lately.

He's been reading the manuals, just like your kids have.

With no prompting, he can recite:

"On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight."

He knows a few of the Scout knots, too. He begged his mother to buy him a book that explains them.

But what Butch doesn't know is that you don't want him.

He's not aware of your original tactic to just ignore his application.

Nor does he know that finally, after Butch's mom begged you repeatedly for a yes or no answer you met and took another vote. And then sent a spokesman to the Harris residence in your neighborhood to explain to his parents that Pack No. 298 "just isn't ready to integrate."

It's Like This, Butch . . .

These things Mrs. Harris has been afraid to tell her boy.

As of yesterday, at least, she still hadn't told him. Then, she admitted to me that she just plain didn't know how.

"Two days ago," she told me, "I finally worked up the courage to ask him if any kid at school had ever called him 'Nigger.' I thought maybe I could lead into it that way.

"But he answered, 'No, Mom. Why would any kid say that?'"

Mrs. Harris wondered if I could possibly help her explain to Butch why he's not going to be a Cub Scout.

I can't. I'm afraid I wouldn't know where to begin.

But if one of you Pack No. 298 Den Mothers wants to volunteer. I guess Butch is going to have to be told by somebody.

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