Dr. Dixon told his first recorded lie in Duluth just three days into the job. His arrival in Duluth coincided with the completion of the memorial to remember the infamous 1920 lynching of three black men in Duluth. I’ve read Michael Fedo’s book on this incident twice over the years and recently took part in public radio broadcast of a play reenacting the lynching. For the last fifty of my nearly 60 years I’ve regarded the civil rights struggle as the single most important issue in the history of the United States.
I attended the newly integrated schools of Topeka, Kansas after the Brown decision. My parents raised me to venerate my grandfather who officered a black regiment from Harlem during the First World War. I had a black roommate who was the first black person ever to attend my southern Minnesota high school. I repeatedly worked to elect a black candidate to the Duluth School Board. One of my first objections to the Red Plan was its callous disregard for the well being of Duluth’s minority population. To say I care deeply about civil rights is a gross understatement.
When I discovered a 30 minute recording during which Dr. Dixon expressed similar views my bull**** detector went haywire especially when Dr. Dixon choked back tears and apologized to his audience for being unable to continue speaking. Dr. Dixon has duplicated this teary feat on numerous occasions explaining the virtues of his Long Range Facilities Plan and winning many converts to the cause of rebuilding our schools.
One of the videotaped anecdotes Dr. Dixon recorded seemed so unlikely that I brooded over it for months. He said that his college roommate was black. Having shared a room with a black student myself at about the same time in another lily white community I was dumbstruck by the coincidence.
Dr. Dixon’s description of spending many a night talking about “white privilege” with his roommate didn’t ring true. “White Privilege” is a catch phrase from the 1980’s. In the 1960’s black Americans were fighting for the right to vote not for entry into the country club. I dug up Dr. Dixon’s old college yearbooks to see if by chance he and his black roommate were pictured together. There were a half a dozen black students at Colorado State’s Ft. Collins campus but nothing to show that any of them had been Dr. Dixon’s roommate so I was left to brood some more.
Then one day last summer after a School Board meeting I passed a jovial Dr. Dixon in the hallway of Old Central. We struck up a brief conversation and I told him I’d heard that he had a black college roommate. Dr. Dixon lit up. Why yes, he told me, he did have one. By coincidence his old roommate was Oscar Reed a Minnesota Viking football player back in the sixties and seventies. Coincidentally, Mr. Reed had spoken to the Men as Peacemakers meeting telling them about his foundation to help kids. After Reed’s presentation Dr. Dixon reintroduced himself to the surprised guest speaker. Dr. Dixon went on to tell me that Ft. Collins had a program pairing freshman students with older roommates who could act as mentors.
I felt like an idiot for ever suspecting Dr. Dixon. I couldn’t conceive of a person looking me in the eye telling me all these details if they weren’t true. I had shared my suspicions with a few other people and had to call them up and confess that I had almost certainly been wrong.
Almost certainly. For months I pondered the story. Oscar Reed had settled in the Twin Cities after his days as a Viking. All I would have to do to confirm the story was call him. Once again it took me months to screw up the courage to make the call.
All I wanted to ask Mr. Reed was whether he had been Keith Dixon’s roommate but it was an awkward call to make. I didn’t want to tell him I was interested in learning whether the Superintendent of the Duluth Schools was a liar. I told Mr. Reed about how I lived in Mankato when the Vikings moved their training camp there. I mentioned my surprise at learning the he and Dr. Dixon were roommates. Well, replied Mr. Reed, not wanting to contradict the Superintendent, “I think we may have lived in the same dormitory.”
“The same dormitory?” What about that mentoring program? What about those late night conversations on the topic of “white privilege?” Apparently they were nothing more than embroidery sewed onto a good story to make it more convincing.
So, there you have it. Two lies for the price of one. First a lie to a minority audience recorded on the video. What a great way to win over a sometimes difficult and fractious community, kind of like telling your wife you haven’t cheated on her even though you have. Second, a lie to my face told with such genial charm that I almost fell for it.
Dr. Dixon’s stories have brought tears not only to his own eyes but also to the eyes of people in his Duluth audiences. It’s a remarkable talent for a man as cold blooded as our superintendent.