This is a short story about two boys — one black, one white — who grew up together on Youngstown’s East Side.
They first met in kindergarten at the former Lincoln Elementary School.
They were temporarily separated in the fourth grade, when the family of the young black boy, who used to live on North Prospect Street, moved to South Bruce Street and would now attend Roosevelt Elementary School.
The two were reunited in the eighth grade at East High School and often went to lunch together.
The two friends loved baseball, particularly the New York Yankees and Mickey Mantle, the Hall of Famer.
The young white teen was an excellent baseball player, a first-baseman who was a terrific fielder and a solid hitter.
The young black teen was an average player who had a strong throwing arm and was a decent fielder. He was an absolutely terrible hitter.
The two friends often would play strikeout, a game played with a rubber baseball, at the Lincoln school playground.
Their world would be rocked and the bonds of their friendship severely tested April 4, 1968.
That was the day the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn.
For those born in the 1980s and 1990s, you probably have seen TV or film footage of the riots that plagued large and small cities after his death.
Disturbances broke out in several cities, as black youths and young adults took to the streets, burning buildings and cars and beating anyone who looked white, after King’s death — an irrational response born of frustration and years of unequal treatment.
Youngstown was not spared. Two city police officers were shot five days after the assassination. Mayor A.B. Flask called in the National Guard.
The two friends were at a baseball practice behind East High School a few days after the assassination. There was talk of a citywide curfew, but nothing definite at the time, so Mr. Art “Chip” Flauto, the baseball coach, had his team out there on the field after school.
The young white teen, Vince Carnevale, was a shoo-in to make the team. His black friend, Ernie Brown Jr., however, would struggle. In fact, I didn’t make the baseball team until my senior year in 1970.
Vince was an encourager, who, along with my brother, Mark, always tried to make me feel better about my game.
After practice, Vince and I began the walk from East back to our homes. We didn’t have access to cars back in those days; few teens did.
We noticed, however, on the walk home, that there wasn’t a lot of traffic as we headed down East High Avenue. We thought that was unusual, but we just talked baseball and kept walking.
It was then that I noticed a red car headed in our direction that looked familiar.
It was my mom’s Oldsmobile.
“Get in!” she said. “There’s trouble in the city. A curfew. No kids are to be on the streets!”
My mom dropped Vince off at his house on North Bruce Street, then she continued to our home on South Bruce.
The racial revolt boiled over again in summer 1969, when an incident at Montella’s Dairy store on the East Side erupted into violence, touching off disorders on the East and South sides.
Despite those trying times, my friendship with Vince continued.
We’re both near 60, we’ve lost a few hairs, but we still love the Yanks.
My friend has experienced some tough personal issues the past couple of years.
He lost his wife, Joanne, to cancer, in February 2011, and his mom, Mary, died in January this year.
Joanne was a Cardinal Mooney grad, and she was so friendly. She and Vince got married two years after graduating from high school in 1970.
Vince and I have left our East Side roots. He lives in Austintown. I live in Boardman. We never spent a lot of time talking about racial matters while growing up. Perhaps we should have, but, then again, we’ve known each other for 55 years, and our skin color just never seemed to be an issue.
We were just two guys who loved baseball, the Yankees and each other.
Ernie Brown Jr. is a regional editor at The Vindicator. You can contact him at email@example.com