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Charles Meredith: A coming of age on campus

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Dear Friends,

Good morning. When you’re 85 and lucky to still live in your home, it takes a staff to keep you safe. Mighty Betsy calls our team “keepers” as they keep us safe. Our mornings begin with Alice Agnew who presides over Be Home Care. She brings in the three newspapers from the lawn and we discuss the events of the day.

This morning, Alice showed me an article from USA Today which had a very local connection to it. “Federal Judges’ Association calls emergency meeting after Department of Justice (DOJ) intervenes in the case of Trump ally Roger Stone.” The page one story noted that U.S. federal District, Judge Cynthia Rufe, said that her group could not wait until its spring conference to weigh in on a deepening crisis that has enveloped the Justice Department and Attorney General William Barr.

Cynthia Rufe was a judge in the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas before her elevation to the federal bench. The Rufes are Pennridge residents. Cynthia Rufe said that the group of more than 1,000 federal jurists called for the meeting last week after Trump criticized prosecutors’ initial sentencing recommendation for his friend Roger Stone and the Department of Justice overruled them. In addition, more than 2,000 former Justice Department officials called on Barr to resign Sunday.

Friends, are we facing a constitutional crisis? We are if Donald Trump actually wants to become king.

I worry that most Americans may not care … as long as the economy is roaring along. We watched the Democrat debate last week and saw that Sen. Bernie Sanders, the avowed socialist from Vermont, remains the current leader for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Sanders is the easiest opponent that President Trump would face. In my opinion, a Bernie Sanders nomination insures four more years for President Trump.

Meanwhile, here in Bucks County, we saw several positive items. First, the League of Women Voters has turned 100 years old. Monica Weninger, president of the League of Women Voters of Bucks County, said that the local league is joining with leagues across the country in demonstrating the power of women to achieve a more perfect democracy. Jane Grim of Perkasie is one of our close friends who’s spent decades of leadership in the Bucks group. Brava League of Women Voters!

And speaking about Perkasie, did you see that the fundraising effort to restore the South Perkasie Covered Bridge is nearing its $100,000 goal? “The residents of Perkasie (pop. 8,500) saved the 1832 South Perkasie Bridge from demolition in 1958 and they must finance its upkeep,” the Herald reported several weeks ago. More than 1,400 have signed up to help. Bravo Perkasie!

Last, Mighty Betsy and I are reading a new book about 18 black students who changed Harvard University. The story about racial discrimination at Harvard reminded me of an incident during my senior year at Penn in 1957. Written by Kent Garrett and Jeanne Ellsworth, the book describes the coming of age on a campus [Harvard] where Negro boys had once been barred from dorms.

In “The Last Negroes at Harvard,” the book explains that in the 1920s, Harvard barred Negroes from the dormitories and had a branch of the Ku Klux Klan at the college. Garrett went on to a career in TV news production.

I was curious about how race statistics compare at Harvard and Penn. They are similar. White student population at Penn is 43.4 percent; at Harvard, it’s 41.8 percent. Asian student population at Penn is 15.4 percent; at Harvard, 13.5 percent. Hispanic or Latino student population at Penn is 6.2 percent; at Harvard, 8.9 percent. The black student population at Penn is 3.4 percent compared to 5.4 percent at Harvard.

There were racial and religious barriers that I experienced at Penn. I belonged to a song and dance outfit called Mask and Wig. The cast was 100 percent male with half spoofing as female. I was a girl for four years at M and W. Harvard and Princeton had its counter parts with Harvard Hasty Pudding and Princeton Triangle, respectively.

Penn’s Mask and Wig had never had a black member. But in my senior year things changed. I was the undergraduate chairman of M and W and we held auditions for the freshman show. Walter Shervington entered my life. By far, he was the best candidate for inclusion. Walter could sing … he could dance … he had wonderful stage presence. Alas, he was black.

So when the alumni Mask and Wig members discovered that we undergraduates would include Walter Shervington, all hell broke loose. The graduate club ordered me to appear and defend our decision. They told me that if we allowed Walter Shervington to participate, the graduate club would expel me. Thus, I became the first M and W undergraduate chairman to not be elected to the graduate club.

That experience 63 years ago defined me over the years. MB and I are hard-wired for the underdog … no surprise.

Sincerely, Charles Meredith


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