…for me began with the drive to church. This half hour drive required us to pass from outskirts to suburbia to the inner city of my deep-south hometown. The tragedy of 1960s society passed by the windows of our Chrysler New Yorker each week. But, when I was about six years old I had a much closer experience with inequality in my hometown.
My Mom and I were having lunch at one of our favorite, little cafes. This cafe was in my neighborhood, very near my school, and I was perfectly at home there. My entire family usually dined there once a week. The owner, Mrs. Jones, knew my parents, grannies, uncles, brother, and sisters. We were always welcomed with kindness and enthusiasm.
On this particular day two men entered the cafe and sat at a booth behind us waiting for service. Mrs. Jones confidently approached their table and told the men to get out. She would not serve them. One man was black, and one was white. A muted, but heated exchange happened between Mrs. Jones and the white man. I was mortified! Kind, sweet, little Mrs. Jones would not feed those men. I kept turning around and asking Mama why this was happening. I could see fear in Mama’s face. With eyes cast downward, she whispered that I must stay still and be very quiet. Now, from previous observations and my parents’ discussions, I knew that Mrs. Jones was a yankee. Mama and Daddy said that her occasional abruptness had to be overlooked due to her unfortunate birth and upbringing in the North. But, her behavior shocked and confused me.
On that day I learned my first, great lesson about race in America. I must look away and be silent. Look away and be silent, little, white girl. Look away and be silent. Of course, I understand that my parents taught me this to protect me from my own big mouth. Like most people in the South during the 1960s, they were afraid. But, what about now almost 50 years later?
MY POINT: Do I still choose to look away and be silent when I witness racial inequality? I hope and pray for boldness to speak up!