In recognition of Black History Month, I'm including some postings this month that relate to my experiences as a black American.
I got my dad to write something for me! Dad grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in St. Louis, MO. He was the 11th of 16 children. Here is one of his earliest experience of "standing up to the system":
I must have been in my teens. Circumstances that day required me to go out on my own to get my eyeglasses replaced. This meant a trip on the buses to a different part of town. It also meant ending up someplace other than my own regular neighborhood at lunchtime.
I loved chili, and I soon found a place where it was offered. These days I would call the place a “greasy spoon”, but back then it was grub and I was hungry.
It was lunch time and the place was jammed. I ordered my cheeseburger and chili. I had frequently, in the company of my older brothers, ordered food in similar situations, always adding the familiar phrase “to go.” But that really wasn’t necessary. This was a white institution, so it went without saying that my order was “to go.” Maybe it didn’t catch their attention that I didn’t specifically say the words “to go,” and they certainly couldn’t see in my mind that on that day, for some reason, I had no intention of taking my food and going out into the cold, to walk down the street and find a place to stand around and eat.
So when my food was brought to me in a nice brown bag, and after it was paid for, I simply sat down at the counter, opened the bag, and began to eat. It was in the mid-1950s, long before lunch counter sit-ins became fashionable, but this was a sit-in borne of necessity.
The distressed expression on the face of the white waitress told me this wasn’t going to go smoothly. After repeatedly informing me that I couldn’t eat there, and her remonstrations falling on deaf ears, she resorted to more desperate measures. Her final actions were to snatch the sandwich from my hands, ring up a “no sale” on the cash register, and call in a nearby policeman to complain that I hadn’t paid. The policeman certainly knew what was going on, and had no desire to have a more unpleasant ending than was necessary. He finally took me aside, and (although I don’t remember his exact words) he let me know there was no need to make trouble about this. Essentially if I would go away quietly, he had no desire to take further actions.
So, I was back out in the cold and on to the streetcar, a little bit hungry, and a little bit disillusioned. But that was life in St. Louis in the mid-50s.
In high school, Dad's favorite subject was English. He loved literature and poetry and dreamed of being a journalist. His guidance counselor told him he didn't stand a chance, there would never be a market for black journalists. Dad considered several other career options and sort of stumbled into civil engineering. He is now a Deputy Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works with hundreds of people working under him. Along with working a full-time job, he is also the pastor of our church and is the BEST preacher you would ever have the privilege to hear!
Thank you for contributing to my blog, Daddy! Love you!