It was the mid-’60s, and graduation day couldn’t come soon enough, especially for several of my classmates who knew exactly what they would do after receiving their diplomas.

Several of my friends had decided that right after high school, they would leave town, headed for some place they felt would be much better than their home of Fort Worth.

Although the rest of us knew that the would-be pilgrims were serious about their plans to leave, most of us were amazed – shocked even – to learn they actually had boarded a Greyhound bus for Los Angeles that very week.

For them, California was the Promised Land, filled with opportunities they thought they could only imagine in their home town.

I must admit that after my first visit to Southern California (the summer after completing third grade) the Golden State did seem to have a special magic, and I’m not just talking about Disneyland.

So, I understood how my high school classmates could look upon the state, with its palm-lined streets, beaches, mountains and multicultural society as a place of hope.

Most of my friends were just finishing the first grade when the Supreme Court declared that separate-but-equal schools are “inherently unequal” and therefore unconstitutional, and that we should integrate “with all deliberate speed. ” Still they, as I, went through 11 more years of a segregated education because there were people in our town, in Texas and throughout the South who felt that little black boys and girls should not go to school with little white boys and girls.

So, my young friends (thanks to God and Greyhound, as the country song says), went west, convinced they would be able to see new sights, dream new dreams and live new lives.

Some of them enrolled in school, mostly at Los Angeles City College, and others found work.

They wrote home talking about how great California was, and how they were especially happy in the Land of LA LA.

But it wouldn’t be long before some of us, who went off to school and returned home to our various careers, realized that while many of the California gang were doing OK, some (maybe most) were simply existing.

The so-called Promised Land was practically barren as far as they were concerned.

Still, California for years held on to its special mystique, thanks partly to Hollywood and partly to a population of transplants who wrote to relatives back home singing its praises.

In recent years, California’s mean streak has been showing brighter than the reflection of the Golden Gate Bridge at dusk.

There is an evilness that has engulfed the state, causing it to turn on itself in the name of some deranged conservatism.

It started 20 years ago this month with the passing of Proposition 13, which limited property taxes and, in so doing, terribly crippled California’s once-fine public school system.

There would be other mean-spirited selfish initiatives. The state would pass term limits for the Legislature, mainly in an attempt to get rid of powerful, and effective, Democrats like former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (another Texas transplant).

More recently we’ve seen the move to take away social services for illegal immigrants, the dismantling of affirmative action programs and, just this week, the abolishment of bilingual education.

California is definitely losing its glow. Perhaps that’s what the residents want – to make the state so bad that it will be less attractive to outsiders who might want to take up residence there. If so, they’re doing a terrific job.

Some of my friends who were on that Greyhound bus over 30 years ago have come home, proving Thomas Wolfe wrong.

They have left behind a state that most definitely is not a Promised Land. In fact, it is quickly turning into a land with little promise.

Bob Ray Sanders’ column appears Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. (817) 390-7775

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