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Who Lives on the Other Side of the Railroad Tracks?

Freda Isaksen

Anyone can form their own opinion about who lives on the other side of the railroad tracks, but who or what determines who should be living on the other side of a public street in a residential community?

At one time I was both district planner and den mother for a group of eight-year-old Cub Scouts, which is a branch of the Boy Scouts of America. My own group of boys were compatible and it was a pleasure to provide them with fun and some measure of education, and for me it was an enjoyable and meaningful afternoon when they met at my home one day a week. Sometimes there would be a change in participation due to one reason or another, so when two boys moved to another district I replaced them with two others. I explained to their parents that I had only two requirements, namely that the boys could walk or have other easy ways to come to my house after school and that their age was suitable for the program. Both requirements were met so I invited them to come to the next meeting.

A short time later I received a phone call from the local sponsors of the organization telling me that the two boys I had recently accepted could not belong to our group. “Tell me why not,” I said. The answer was that the sponsors were obligated to conform to certain standards and these two boys did not comply. My reply was, “Only I can determine who visits me in my own home, these boys have already attended a meeting and in my estimation they fit in very well.” The response was, “Then we will disband your group.” It was obvious that there were no racial or ethnic issues involved, the boys simply lived on the side of the street where an imaginary discriminating line existed.

I was anxious to hear the opinion of other parents in the immediate neighborhood, so after several telephone conversations I determined that the responses were positive, my decision to retain the boys was correct, nevertheless I was assured by the objectors that my group could not continue unless I dismissed the two boys in question.

I decided to call a meeting at my home with the opposing sponsors and the supporting parents because the latter group were definitely in the majority as I spoke to them on the telephone.

I prepared for the meeting with great confidence, set the room up with chairs for a group of participants, set out simple refreshments and with positive expectations that the opposition was outnumbered I awaited the guests. Two people of the opposition showed up and nobody else. So I was alone as the minority.

That same evening I resigned my position as den mother and district planner. The next day I did receive a phone call from the original objector calling me an obstinate Norwegian, I was quite proud of the title. I reported the incident to the district officers of the Boy Scouts of America and received a reply from them excusing the outcome of my stand against bigotry and urging me to reinstate my group with no exceptions.

Because the local sponsors were the Parent Teachers Association of the nearby school I had no further desire to be associated with them and affirmed my resignation. Unfortunately or maybe fortunately because thereby I set an example about tolerance, my own sons were withdrawn by me from the Cub Scouts until they were old enough to join the Boy Scouts.


Copyright Freda Isaksen 1986–2006. Permission to reuse for non-commercial purposes is granted, provided that the text is unaltered and the original source is acknowledged. For more information, contact isaksen at math.wayne.edu.

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