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Mixed-Race Family Copes With Tensions in the Area

December 29, 1985|GEORGE ESPER | Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — For Gerald Fox, who is black, it's hard to explain racism to his two children--the reason neighbors chopped up kitchen cabinets, destroyed their water and oil heaters and shouted angry epithets when they moved into the neighborhood.

His 5-year-old son, Geramiah, didn't even think of his mother as white until last year, when she walked into his school and someone made a remark to him.

"Is mom white?" he asked his father.

Fox replied, "Yeah, well, you know, yes, she is."

He said Geramiah and a daughter, Emma, 10, are adjusting to the tensions in their new neighborhood.

Emma went on with her homework the night 200 whites gathered outside the Fox home chanting: "Move, move, move," "Beat it," and, "We want them out." Geramiah was staying with a friend.

But the next day, a man passing by in a car yelled, "Bitch!" at Emma and gestured obscenely.

A week ago, as Fox's 31-year-old-wife, Carol, was walking with Geramiah to the store, the boy pulled out a corkscrew.

"I've got me a weapon, mom," he told her. "I'll take care of you."

What Do They Fear?

Fox said he doesn't know what the whites fear.

"I live as they do," he said. "It's bigotry, it's color, it's race. They can make any excuse they want."

Other than stares, the couple never had problems living in Italy, England, North Carolina or in another Philadelphia neighborhood during their 11 years of marriage.

Carol Fox said she wanted to live in all-white Elmwood because she liked the area.

"We chose this house," she said. "I've always liked it up here. It's family. Kids are able to get into sports. I used to come here to do my shopping, and I'd see kids on the way to Little League. I wanted my kids to be able to do things like that."

Like her neighbors, Carol Fox said, she does not want to live in a run-down house.

"This is our home," she said. "We intend to make it look nice."

The three-bedroom house, purchased from the Veterans Administration for about $21,000, is in bad shape. The wallpaper is peeling, chunks of plaster are missing from the ceiling and it is badly in need of paint and a new roof. The vandals' damage was done while the family was between trips with a rented moving truck.

One night Carol Fox stripped wallpaper with a kitchen spatula and hung ceiling panels in the vestibule while waiting for her husband to come home from his job as a receiving clerk at an electronics company.

Carol Fox is a native of Banbury, near Oxford in England. Gerald Fox, who grew up across the river from Philadelphia in Burlington, N.J., the son of a gypsum plant foreman, met his wife when he was based with the Air Force in Italy, where she was working as a waitress.

Carol Fox has known rejection before. The child of an unwed mother, she was adopted by her mother's uncle as a baby.

"They never brought me up with color," she said. "I never knew what it was like to be prejudiced."

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