Ending up our 4-day trek to Iowa’s University and Coe College, Ajia and I ended up at Jane Elliott’s home to catch up on her life and continued mission to end racism. She has pursued the same passion for social justice since she was a third grade teacher in Riceville, Iowa, the year Martin Luther King was assassinated. Since then she has been on a mission to eliminate racism. That simple exercise she developed made her famous. I first saw her being interviewed by Johnny Carson on my TV in Waterloo, where I lived at that time. Little did I know then that our paths would cross rather soon.
Although she is now pushing the age of 80, and being a relatively new widow, she doesn’t plan to stop giving her talks and exercises until she has achieved her goal of racial equality, stopped only by being assassinated herself, or dying of natural causes. She has acquired a considerable body of knowledge making her formidable. My causes are more trivial and less formidable, changing over time. But I love my life as much as she loves hers. I like living as many different lives as I can in one life. She has chosen to pursue the same goal all her life at all costs, giving her command of a body of knowledge few others can attain. This gives her a confidence enviable to others.
Jane gave me a copy of her book she recently finished writing, “‘A Collar in My Pocket” – The Blue Eyes Brown Eyes Exercise. She chose not to publish it but perhaps by now she has changed her mind. I am impressed with her honesty as she describes not only her feelings and apprehensions about those early exercises she put her third graders through – but the effects her decision to do so may have had on her husband, her children and the frequently hostile neighbors. Yet her determination of the ‘rightness’ of her cause perseveres. To make the effects of how it feels to be openly discriminated by half the class, she felt she must be believable in how she openly rewarded the favored half, and how sharp and meanly she dismissed the discriminated half. Often she would drive home with rears in her eyes, fearful she might be doing more harm than good. But a photo in her book shows how much her students loved her as they all tried to hug and kiss her at the same time when the exercise had been completed.
It interested me how many different insights she achieved during the many times she has done this exercise — how many times she challenged herself that she was accurate in her perceptions, how often her husband tried his best to be there for her, sharing his concerns and suggestions that she truly needed and wanted. Indeed, it is a beautiful love story of how this husband and wife showed love, respect and support for one another throughout their long and fruitful marriage. Although Jane insisted to me that she was no writer, I could not disagree more for this book is as much about her family and close friends as it is about the challenges she continues to face daily. If her book hasn’t been published, it should be. There are far too many of us who still haven’t learned what she teaches to those who will hear.