Friday, September 24, 2010

A Class Above Itself

East Hampton has been a special place to reside and its citizens, in most cases, exemplify integrity, moral character and convictions, reverence, patriotism, tolerance and respect of others. These traits have been nurtured from a number of role models – parents, pastors, teachers and community leaders. The 1947 Senior Class at EHHS faced head on their resolve of character and moral conviction. Like so many others, the class had planned its senior trip to tour our Nation’s Capitol. After hotel accommodations had been arranged, the Principal, Everett A. McDonald, Jr. received a call from hotel staff inquiring if any attending were “colored” because if so, separate accommodations would have to be made. As a matter of fact there was a member “of color” – Class President Charles “Sonny” O’Neil. Not only was he Class President, he had been elected by his class President all four years of high school.

An accomplished athlete, leader and future businessman, he represented the finest of this community. Mr. O’Neil’s family had actually resided here long before there was a “here!” Among his ancestors were the Wangunk Indians. But to the issue! The Class members rebelled at the indignity and racism, unanimously voting to cancel the Washington trip. A hastily scheduled new senior trip to visit a neighboring city to the north, Montreal, was arranged.

There all were welcomed as EH’s finest matured to young adults and lifelong friends. It took many years for segregation laws to change and many of us remember the tumultuous 1960s. There is no doubt we still encounter racism and intolerance today. But at a time when it was uncommon to stand up against such practices, 26 “adults” (the total Senior class) stood tall in solidarity and just said NOT US!

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