I See Things More Clearly Now

Facing Racism in Muncie, Indiana

Fred Long’s story, written by Beth Messner

Fred is 55 years old

My family moved here in the 1950s from Mississippi looking for jobs. I was born here and lived in Muncie almost all my life. I went to Muncie Central High School and played on the basketball team. When I finished school in 1979, I worked a couple of jobs—one in meatpacking and one at Ball Hospital. Then I got a good job at BorgWarner that lasted over 23 years. Me and my wife, Glenda, we have four kids between us. All four were raised here.

When I was in school, I knew about racism. But I didn’t take it as seriously as now. Me and my friends were just kids. We were into girls and sports. We weren’t really into the race stuff. We did know that you didn’t date outside your race. But, if people called us names, we just didn’t pay it no attention. Even one of the biggest things that happened to us, me and my friends just laughed off . . .

We was playing a basketball game at Blackford. We were a good team, really good. Over half of us was African-American. We were beating Blackford pretty bad. One of our guys laid up the ball and scored. When he turned to come back down the court, someone in the bleachers behind the basket grabbed him and threw him into the crowd. All we saw was fists flying and him trying to cover himself up. Coach Harrell jumped up and made us all go to the shower room. We didn’t know what was happening with our teammate. He finally came into the showers and was laughing. He had knots all over him. When they finally let us come back out, they had police all around the court. Coach Harrell said we were never coming back there again. Now, as I look back on it, I realize how serious it was, how bad our teammate could have been hurt. But, back then, with us being young, we was just laughing.

Now, as an adult, I look around and see things differently. Like the situation with jobs. What I see on a day-to-day basis, sometimes I don’t think it represents Muncie.

I worked for BorgWarner for 23 ½ years. That was a real good job. Good pay and benefits. A pretty diverse company too. I only had a few run-ins with racists. Mostly name-calling and stuff like that. That job really took care of me and my family. Planned to retire from there with a good pension. But they closed down.

When I had to get back in the job market, that’s when I seen it . . . the discrimination. I was looking for jobs that were similar and paid similar. I would apply, then not get it. I had over 20 years of experience. Then I would see who was hired, people who had less years in than me, people who was a different color than me. I may be wrong, but I’m just going from what I see.

I tried for a job at Ball State. They were hiring for lawn care positions. So I talked to a guy there, pitched my qualifications, told him how I had a landscape business. I didn’t get a call. They hired someone else. Then it happened again and again at the same place with the same kind of job. Finally, I got someone to help me and I got an interview. The guy said, “So you know how to drive a mower?”

They set up a course and I drove the course.

He said, “Okay, you been on a mower.”

Didn’t even check my resume! I did get a job offer, but it was for a part-time, temporary job. Me with over 20 years of experience and my own landscape business! It was just something.

Then I started looking around town. I didn’t see too many other African-Americans getting hired either. In particular, I noticed the people working for the utility companies. Their employees are out and around a lot. I could see them digging up a road for a water leak, or setting up service at a house, or up on a ladder beside a utility pole. I only saw one African-American guy. All the rest I was seeing was white men. I thought: Wow! You’re in the community, and you’re serving the community, but you’re not representing the community. Is nobody Black qualified?

I emailed a lady from a utility company. I told her what I saw in the Muncie area and asked if they were making any attempt to hire African-Americans. The lady said, “I’ll get back to you on that.” She never did.

For places like that, I’m pretty sure their hiring practices have been like that for quite some time. But what happens when they got the discrimination exposed? What are they going to do about it? They would probably say, “Well, we’ll make an effort to do something.”

I don’t understand this. My thinking is that since you know you been doing wrong, then you not only need to fix it for now and the future, but you need to make up for all the times you done wrong in the past. Maybe the next ten people you hire should be African-American or Hispanic. I’m sure someone will say, “Oh no, you can’t do that!” But you can’t just brush aside the past! Maybe I don’t get it. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s just the way I see it. And I think I’m seeing things more clearly now.

This story originally appeared in Facing Racism in Muncie, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by R.A.C.E. Muncie in Muncie, Indiana.

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