Different Sides of the Same Coin

Warren Moise and I experienced similar childhoods in that we grew up as White males in relatively small South Carolina towns in the Fifties and Sixties, both graduating from high schools that were integrated in the 1970-1971 school year.

Here’s a quote from the back cover of Warren’s excellent historical memoir The Class of ’71.[1]

When the Class of ’71 began first grade as young children in 1959, they lived in a totally segregated society. Except for some few prior student transfers and with limited other exceptions, the Black and White members of the Class of ’71 had never met, played music together, gone to church with one another, eaten food at the same lunch counters, or swum together in the same pools. All of that would change on the first day of their senior year. 

In Summerville, South Carolina, where I lived, even physicians’ waiting rooms were segregated into White and Black sections. In fact, Bryan’s, the Black owned barbershop that I patronized, only cut White people’s hair.  John F. Kennedy, Malcom X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy were assassinated within five years of one another when we were students. A cultural revolution was underway. 

Again, to quote Warren:

Soul music, oxford shirts, and oxblood Wejuns penny loafers were disappearing from the streets of Gamecock City[2]every day, It was as if the 1960s were burning rubber in a Chevelle V-8 Super Sport on Highway 15 South leaving town toward Paxville. At the same moment, the 1970s were rollin’ into town on Highway 15 North inside a Volkswagen van painted with slogans of peace, love, and daisies.

Warren and I met our freshman year in Thornwell dorm the fall of 1971 at the University of South Carolina and became fast friends, deciding to room together in Tenement Nine on the Horseshoe the next year, which we did until Warren left college to pursue a musical career.[3]

Warren and I circa 1972

We also shared houses when Warren returned to USC to earn his undergraduate degree in history in 1974 -1976. Unfortunately, we more or less lost contact after school. Oddly enough, fortyish years later we both ended up writing books about being in high school the same year. My novel Today, Oh Boy takes place during the course of one day, October 12, 1970, a month or two after Warren began his senior year at Edmunds high school.[4]

So, The Class of ’71 and Today, Oh Boy cover some of the same terrain, small towns transitioning from the Old to New South, the tumultuous raging of hormones, adolescent crushes, physical violence engendered by culture clashes. 

In my not-all-that-humble opinion, they offer interesting perspectives from non-fictive and fictive landscapes in that pivotal school year that ended the Sixties and ushered in the Seventies.

We better stop
Hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look, what’s going down?

from “For What It’s Worth,” lyrics by Stephen Stills

[1] I don’t know if there’s such a thing as a historical memoir. The Class of ’71 contains multitudes – it’s a history of Sumter County, a coming-of-age story, a judicial and political chronicle of desegregation, a sociological review of the cultural changes of the late Sixties, a profile of serial killer Pee Wee Gaskins. In short, it’s difficult to succinctly classify. Here’s some more expansive. You can purchase the book HERE.  It’s a great read propelled by well-crafted prose. 

[2] I.e., Sumter, South Carolina.

[3] You can read the horror story of the roommate who replaced him HERE BTW, Warren’s musical career was successful. He’s a member of the Beach Music Hall of Fame, though he abandoned life on the road for a career in law.

[4] Actually, I decided to delay Summerville’s integration until the next year, which we novelists have the freedom to do. You can purchase Today, Oh Boy HERE.

4 thoughts on “Different Sides of the Same Coin

  1. Hey Rusty-
    We received our copy of The Class of ’71 today and look forward to reading another high school recollection. Really enjoyed meeting Warren last week and I love his imagery of the Chevelle and the VW bus. I could relate in a powerful way although my experience was just a bit different. In ’68, my older brother had traded in his oxford shirt and Wejuns for an olive drab uniform and boots and was touring Southeast Asia courtesy of Uncle Sam. He left his precious Marina Blue Chevelle and, if I remember correctly, said it was ok to drive it once I had my license. A fast car with four-on-the-floor was a dangerous machine in the hands of this sixteen year old. Long story short, the last time I saw that beautiful car it was being towed down to Cherrylog Road to rest in peace. An elderly women had turned in front of me at an intersection and, wham, and in that split second what was once a graceful icon transformed into twisted pile of metal. No one was hurt, no tickets were issued but it was over.
    Back to Warren’s image. When my brother returned, thankfully, from the service I let him tool around Greenville in my faded two-toned green and white 1964 VW bus that my dad helped me purchase during my senior year. Not as much pickup as the Chevelle, but a great sound system and paisley curtains, that my mother custom made, hid the multitude of sins going on inside the van.
    Ah! Those high school days.

    Keep on Doing Hoodoo.

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