July 31st, 2010
09:21 AM ET

Letter to the President #558: 'Racing to discuss race'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: President Obama is urging, in the wake of the mess over at the USDA over accusations of racism, that our country take up the discussion of racial issues anew. In today’s letter, I’ll try to do my part.

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Dear Mr. President,

I’ve been thinking about your call this week for a broad American discussion of race. You and I have been exchanging letters for quite a while now (and by that I mean I have been writing every single day since you took the oath and you have not responded even once, but still…) so I feel that I can speak freely. And I want to tell you a story from around 1965. It’s kind of long, but heck, it’s the weekend. I have the time if you do.

When I was in first grade, my family travelled from our home, which was in South Dakota at the time, down to see my grandmother in Alabama. My grandfather had died suddenly a year or so before and my folks wanted to help her out, and share Christmastime with my mom’s side of the family. So we piled into the Desoto, a hulking bullet of white and aqua, and rolled away from the Black Hills, over the Badlands, across the Great Plains, and down through the Delta.

The ride was interminably long, and my brother, sister and I lolled around in the back seat as if we were crossing the ocean in steerage. No air conditioning. No iPods. AM radio at best and the stations were a hit and miss patchwork of hillbilly tunes, scratching in from the ether as we passed some small town, and hissing out again as it faded to a speck in the rear window.

Stops were not common. Sandwiches were made and packed before we embarked, a jug of water passed when we grew thirsty, and restroom breaks were like pit stops at Indy; screech up, bail out, back in, let’s roll. My parents were not unreasonable. They were just efficient drivers who knew that if we three kids, all under the age of 12, had half a chance we’d turn a two day drive into a month long trek and we’d be due to head home before we’d even arrived.