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View Diary: I just realized I starred in a racist school program 50 years ago (103 comments)

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  •  It was the autumn of 1956, I was 8.... (2+ / 0-)
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    Powell, Oh Mary Oh

    ..years old and my Dad was working with the Pennsylvania State Insurance Commission. He was assigned to inspect a company in St. Louis. Mom was early in her pregnancy with my little brother, and battling the blues. Dad got permission to pull me out of school "on an educational trip," and we took the train to St Louis to spend a week or ten days with Dad.

    One day, after visiting Busch Gardens, we stopped to have lunch at a place called the Salad Bowl. It was on Lindell Boulevard, I believe. It was nice and clean and the food looked good. But there was a sign on the wall that said they reserved the right to serve patrons of their own choosing and to deny service to anyone...or something like that.

    "What does that mean, Mom?" I asked.

    "It means they don't serve colored people," she said.

    It was my first experience with segregation.

    "Well, if they don't serve colored people, they won't serve me," I said, getting up from my seat. "Let's go."

    Mom was stunned, but quickly agreed, and smiled as we walked out and headed back to the Hotel Windsor, where we were staying.

    There i kibitzed with the black help, including the piano player in the lounge. Looking back, I would imagine the Hotel Windsor was probably segregated, too, but the presence of black faces among the employees blinded me from the absence of black patrons.

    When Dad got off work that day and returned to the hotel, Mom couldn't wait to tell him what had happened at the Salad Bowl. She spoke quickly and excitedly, and there was more than just one tear in her eye.

    "We taught him well," Dad said, also smiling and dabbing his eye.

    He came over and hugged me and gave me a kiss on the cheek. God, how I hated the feel of the stubble of his five o'clock shadow rubbing against my face!

    My parents kept telling me how proud they were of me, and told the story to just about everyone in Pittsburgh when we got home - how I had taken my own personal stand against segregation.

    Like most people, I am often conflicted by issues of race, and, at times, am tempted to ignore the better angels of my nature.

    At times like that, my mind wanders back to the seasons of my youth, and that afternoon in St Louis. And then I am haunted by the words of Bob Dylan.

    I was so much older then,
    I'm younger than that now.

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