The pursuit of equal opportunity

Last week’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day was an appropriate time to assess how far our society has come with regard to achieving equality of opportunity. My brother, Fred, I am proud to say, was part of that effort.
While looking through my old files recently, I came across a large mailing envelope with Fred’s name on it. I began to peruse its contents, items he had sent sporadically over the years. Fred, of blessed memory, passed in 2014.
From various notes, greeting cards and news clippings, I pieced together a story about Fred and his wife’s efforts to do the right thing.
Although Fred was a scientist, specializing in cellular biology, he and his wife, Marie, got involved in righting injustices.
After a two-year research/teaching stint at Roswell Park Cancer Hospital in upper New York State (where he encountered anti-Semitism), Fred returned to Texas at A&M’s biology department, carrying out research, writing and teaching for the next five years.
Although relatively new to the College Station community, he soon became aware of violations of rights held by members of the black community.
Streets in the black community were not paved, but most of the white families’ community streets were paved. The Postal Service would not deliver mail to the black community because of the “poor conditions” of their unpaved streets. Fred and Marie quickly became strong voices, vital parts of an existing citizens’ group who worked to change and improve life for all in the A&M community.
Fred pointed out a map to the city manager, showing the location of all the city’s fire hydrants, none of which was in a black neighborhood. New hydrants were subsequently installed.
After Fred consulted with a representative of the city and the Postal Department, streets became paved and mailboxes were built and placed. For the first time, mail was delivered to everyone’s household.
Some people opposed to change began to make threats against Fred and his family. He was even referred to as a Communist. Some members of the A&M faculty came to his defense, as did various members of the community.
Not being a lawyer, Fred had to inform himself as best he could. He had to use law books where they were stored, in the office of the president of A&M College, Retired Army General Earl Rudder.
While Fred pored over the books at one end of the long table, General Rudder, grumbling at the other end, asked Fred, “Why are you involved in this?” But,Fred continued working silently.
Early in 1961, Fred had received a collaborative research fellowship which would take him, his wife and four boys to Europe for two years. This arrangement was allowed under an agreement Fred had with the university.
When it became time to return to Texas, however, Fred’s department failed to respond, so he obtained a position elsewhere, at the Pasadena (California) Research Institute.
Committed to serving others, Fred and Marie continued their good work by helping organize a dental care program for needy children in the Pasadena area.
The majority of Fred’s professional career was as professor of anatomy at Louisiana State Medical School for 25 years, where one of his areas of research included uncovering documentation on medical crimes carried out by Nazi medical professors, information which he has since shared with the Wiesenthal Center.
One usually thinks of a research scientist stuck in a laboratory, laboring over microscopes and test tubes; but with Dr. Frederick Kasten, his mind and heart were greater than that.

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