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About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (Sept. 27, 1971)
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by Steve Kadel
Reprinted from the Omaha World Herald
Magazine of the Midlands.
His childhood is a memory of one-room
apartments with plaster peeling from the walls. Of
stinking tenements where cockroaches vied for
prominence with addicts jabbing heroin into their
arms. Of the feeling of despair that comes from
growing up poor and black in New York's Harlem.
For Mike Randall, a University graduate who
hopes to be a teacher, childhood wasn't happy. It
wasn't filled with sunny afternoons and family
outings in the country. There were no carefree
illusions- only stark realities. But it prepared him to
face what every black man inherits. . . a lifetime of
playing the color game.
RANDALL NEVER KNEW his father and
wouldn't recognize him if they met today. His father
left home shortly after Mike was born, returning only
once after failing to pay child support.
"We used to move a lot," he said of those early
years. "Until 1 was eight 1 never lived in a place for
more than a month. We'd move every week or two,
around the corner or across the street. The trick was
to move to a new place so we didn't have to pay rent.
My mother used to say it was because we were
Because he had no father and a working mother,
Randall spent most of his time living with relatives.
"One time my grandfather got sick and let me stay
with some of his friends." Randall recalled, "and they
were my parents for a whole year. The funny thing
was, when my mother came for me I didn't want to
go with her."
AT THE SAME TIME, the New York ghettos were
taking care of Randall's education. He received expert
tutelage from other boys in the neighborhood, most
of them several years older and much more
experienced than he. They protected him and taught
him how to survive in the streets. -.. ;
"It's one of the norms of the ghetto that you're
either a good worker or a good thief. I was really a
good thief." he said.
fiventually he reached Boys High School in
Brooklyn, a fact that amazes Randall today when he
remembers his numerous expulsions from junior high
for lighting. At Boys High, predominantly black and
a perennial athletic giant, he found a specialized
athletic atmosphere. He remembers it vividly.
"In junior high school I was more or less what
you'd call super-nigger. I was on the tumbling team,
boxing team and was captian of the track team. When
I got out I went to Boys High because that's where
the super-niggers went," he said.
ATHLETES WERE the heroes at Boys High.
Instead of pointing out the scholars who had gone
there before, it was the athletes such as Tommy Davis
and Connie Hawkins who were glorified.
"School was there to get you ready to go to
college for athletics," he said.
There was the belief that sports gives all blacks a
way out of the ghetto. For those few with enough
interest and ability in athletics, Randall included, it
was a chance for a college scholarship. But for the
rest, Boys High did little more than keep them inside
when all they wanted was to get out and hustle a
Mt wasn't barren," Randall insists. "The
opportunity for education was there, but the
motivation was lacking. The teachers really didn't
care about teaching, they were just interested in
making some money. As a result the kids didn't know
anything about that. They couldn't see school being
any help to them."
BUT AFTER BECOMING city champion in the
mile and Brooklyn champion in the two-mile, Randall .
found that being super-nigger has some advantages,
not the least of which was a scholarship offer from
Nebraska, which he accepted at the urging of his
coach. Still not sure what lay ahead, he was on his
way to Middle America.
"I didn't know what to expect from Nebraska
because to New Yorkers at that time, talking about
Nebraska was like talking about Alaska," Randall
said. "Most of us even thought Nebraska was over
near Seattle. When I found out it was in the middle of
the United States I was really freaked out."
When he got to Lincoln he was warned by other
black athletes a bout problems he would have and
restrictions that would be imposed on him by a
white, middle class University. Social life would be
the biggest problem, they said. Since Nebraska
doesn't recruit black scholars as actively as black
athletes, there would be few black girls to date, and
the coaches discouraged dating white girls.
THESE PROBLEMS were real when Randall was a
freshman in 1966. but now he says things are
different. Most of the old taboos are still there, but
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MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 1971 LINCOLN, NEBRASKA VOL. 95. NO. 15
today's black athletes are more militant and refuse to
Randall admits that he was lucky to have the track
team as a sort of brotherhood then. It eased the
"Without it I might have been in trouble," he said,
looking back. But once out of his track suit Randall
found Lincoln somewhat less than a friendly
'I've, almost been run over many times and it
wasn't by accident because it's just happened too
often. One time I was crossing the corner of ! 2th and
Q when the light was green and the guy tried to run
over me. He just waited until I got out there,"
Randall said, his voice rising as he remembered the
That is the epitome of the black situation,
according to Randall. He saw the driver of the car but
was so upset he couldn't recognize him or get the
ALL I WANTED to do was strike out and tear him
and the car to pieces because he tried to kill me,"
Randall said. "That's the situation the black man is
in. . .it's like white people having cars and trying to
run over him and he can't do anything about it."
He lowered his eyes and stopped speaking, as if
sensing the uselessness.
Randall is a thin, small-boned man who dresses
well with a hint of African pride in his wardrobe. His
hair is cut moderately short. He lives in a small
apartment five blocks from the L'NL campus with his
wife Linda, who is white.
The walls of his living room are saturated with
black sentiment: pictures, quotations and
posters-one reading "hree Angela Davis." A large
bookcase against one wall spills its contents onto the
floor. Books, magazine articles, pamphlets and
newspapers lie everywhere, giving the room the
appearance of a perpetual conference on race
relations. Almost all of the literature is concerned
with the black stuggle.
IN A SMALL ROOM behind the kitchen. Randall
stores his most personal literature in a
meticulously-kept filing cabinet. These are stories,
essays and poems he has written. Mirroring his soul,
they reflect the black man's frustration and pain.
"Can you Imagine
Being a Chicano
Or a Black
And being sent to the schools
Of your conquerors
To learn how they conquered
And what do you do once you've
Learned how to conquer from your
Well, you love them.
Do for them.
And die for them.
You even conquer your
Own people for them.
Can you imagine
Well, 1 can imagine,
He glances at his wife, asleep on a bed tucked into a
corner of the small bedroom-living room. She also
knows the feelings of being conquered. She has been
denied jobs, kicked out of apartments by landlords
and has endured taunts of "white trash" because she
married a black. Once in Philadelphia they were
picked up and brought into police headquarters in a
patrol wagon for questioning.
"Why? For suspicious behavior," Randall said
sarcastically. "We were sitting in the same car
together. This was before we were married and the
police kept asking her these ridiculous questions like
why is she marrying a black man and is that the
normal thing to do in Nebraska?"
DESPITE THE ABUSE he receives from a hostile
society, Randall is remarkably easygoing in his
approach to a solution. He likes some of the ideas of
both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcom X, but he
has some trouble seeing himself in the cliche role of a
black militant, with its aura of violence.
Turn to page 7.
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