Excerpt from CHAPTER 1 HARD TIME page 21Published October 21, 2017
As I ate, I glanced beyond the waitress service area into a mirror.
I noticed something was amiss. I turned my stool to glance around
the room, and I slowly turned back. The blood gradually drained
from my face. I wasn’t looking into a mirror at all, but at the other
side of the terminal dining room. In the other area, there were “colored”
people. Behind and beside me, there were white people.
“Wow,” I thought to myself. “Oh, my God, this is it! This is the reality
of segregation, and I’m sitting right in the middle of it—and on
the wrong side!”
Suddenly, I became very self-conscious and uncomfortable. I had
the surreal feeling of being in someone else’s nightmare. “What are
they thinking?” I wondered. “Do the whites think I am an agitator?
What do the “colored” people think? Or is it obvious to all that I am
an ignorant traveler who is clueless about the city’s racist customs
It was 1967 in Washington, DC, the nation’s capital, and I had
stepped into a time warp; the segregated lunch counter in the recent
news became real. The signs were gone now. (“COLORED ONLY”
and “WHITES ONLY”) They didn’t need signs anymore. The laws
were abolished that once required restaurants to segregate. However,
ingrained habits are hard to break. I smiled inwardly as I recalled one
of our drill instructors constantly telling recruits to “checkerboard”
whenever we were ordered into formation. They didn’t want to see a
small cluster of blacks in a company of white faces.
I hurriedly finished my lunch, as I felt the warmth of self-consciousness
on my face and neck. I slid off my stool and deliberately
avoided any eye contact, as I left the money on the counter. The lunch
crowd was mostly gone. I decided I needed a smoke.
After my cigarette, I gave in to the urge to walk into the other side
of the bus-terminal restaurant. A few brown faces were scattered
around the room. The waitresses served both sides from a busy center
island. I looked at where I had been sitting only a short time earlier.
I still couldn’t quite believe what I experienced. So, this was
it—a relic of segregation. Apartheid—American style!
I stood there for a moment, as if silently apologizing for my ignorance.
Also, I offered a moment of silence for those forgotten souls
with black, white, and brown faces who worked and sacrificed for the
changes I hoped to witness. The wheels were starting to turn, ever so
slowly. Bigoted and power-hungry elected officials were desperately
trying to restore or hold onto the old ways. But the nation was on a
course to change. America was forced to realize that to deny any citizen
his or her full rights was to deny all citizens their full rights!
I stood in the skeletal remains of the once “colored” half of the
bus terminal and glanced at the big clock on the wall. Time to go. My
rendezvous with history was over. Within an hour I was riding in a
car on US 50 West, heading into the sunset.