Local author discusses memoir of race relations at The Bookworm of Edwards
If you go …
What: Doug Patton, author of “The White Guy in the Room.”
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 19.
Where: The Bookworm of Edwards, 295 Main St., Riverwalk at Edwards.
Cost: $10, includes appetizers.
More information: Call 970-926-7323, or visit www.bookwormofedwards.com.
EDWARDS — “I was born as a raw-bone farm boy from Iowa who didn’t know much outside my own circle. But I was able to understand black culture, and coming out of my background, it makes me think ‘If I can get to know them, why can’t other white people?’’’
Doug Patton, longtime Vail resident, based his political career on this very thought. On Thursday, Patton will discuss his memoir “The White Guy in the Room” at The Bookworm of Edwards. Patton’s book illustrates his political career fighting for better race relations.
Born in 1940, Patton’s childhood was spent learning in a one-room schoolhouse. In 1952, his family was introduced to the biggest technology at the time — a Zenith TV with three different channels. This began to broaden Patton’s worldview, but it continued to be dominated by white characters until his family took a trip to Florida.
“I grew up with all of the stereotypes,” Patton said. “But it was when I went to Florida with my family for Christmas that I had this awakening. We went out and I saw two water fountains — one that said ‘for whites’ and one that said ‘for coloreds.’ This continues to stick with me to this day.”
Patton attended the University of Iowa, where his interaction with black culture continued to expand. Graduating in 1963, Patton went on a study abroad trip with a friend.
Assassinations and unrest
“I met several people on the Greek liner we took to Europe,” Patton said. “The man sitting next to me was African American and traveling to study, as well. At one point on the trip, the first mate came over to us and pulled this man aside. When he came back he looked completely devastated. After composing himself, he explained that Medger Evers had just been assassinated.”
Patton was not the only one who was affected by the killing of Evers. Evers became an activist after returning to the United States as a World War II veteran and graduating college. His work after the ruling of Brown v. Board of Education opened many doors for African Americans. He continued to work on equal voting rights, equal economic opportunities and other steps to desegregating society. A member of the White Citizen’s Council killed him June 12, 1963.
This event triggered something in Patton. It stuck with him during his time in Germany. One day, he was in the home of his German host family when they received a phone call.
“The son of the family answered the call,” Patton said. “He came back and struggled to find the English word for what he had just been told. All he could say was ‘murder.’ We turned on BBC and there it was: John F. Kennedy had been shot. That event changed my life.”
Shortly after receiving the news, Patton took a ship back to the United States. He started to pursue what would become a long and impressive political career, ranging from volunteering for the Washington Urban League to working closely on the campaign of the late Marion Barry. This long and story-filled political career is brought to life in Patton’s memoir.
“I started writing this book with a prime motive about race relations,” Patton said. “So that people can have some understanding and sensitivity. You have to at least attempt to cross the bridge to better relations. That’s what I’ve come to say.”