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Archive for August, 2017

Fear lingers a long time.

Have you personally spent hours not knowing if a mob would appear, armed in the night?

Would you forget the feeling of your stopped breathing or your ability to move your limbs to safety? Would you know it again?

At the end of my freshman year, the President of Spelman College sent me word to stop at Asheville, NC on my way north. I was the only one who had a ticket in the direction of the Regional YM-YW Conference.

I replaced an elected delegate from TX. It was not fair but in 1948′ students did not argue with adults. Much was on the line: scholarships, good courses, or recommendations.

I had already been an officer in our chapter and was active in an Intercollegiate interracial Council.

The conference was held in a boys’ camp, above the city. I arrived as dinner was ending. I left a pair of rubber boots on the porch which had not fit in my trunk. Thus my name was Boots forever.

As the singing ended, we were lectured about our responsibilities. While on camp property our programs, meals etc. would not be racially restricted despite the laws.

The strongest admonishon was for going in to town. We were to travel with a chaperone and group of the same race. We were to carry ourselves, trying not to become an issue with the law or community. Over the many southern conferences I attended, this was repeated.

The week was a full of sharing and understanding.

On the last night, all assembled in the largest lodge. We held skits and singing as we prepared to leave new good friends.

In the last song, the brighest lights came on. Our top leadership talked to a hushed room.
A call had come from the police and other agencies in town. We had been warned.

Young men were riled up and armed. They were threatening to cross the lake and cause havoc to us. The plan was for the Black boys and their adviser to go to one cabin. The white advisers and white boys would move through the property looking for disturbers. They were given flairs,

We girls were separated by race but stayed in place with women advisers. We were asked to be as quiet as possible and use light sparingly.

Once we were all quiet, you could hear the shouting echo across the lake. We could see flares moving back and forth.

By early morning, we left for our trains in separate cars. What had put us in such danger? Along the roadways were huge billboards with our camp activities hastily blown up. Some one had left film to be developed!

My sense of doom did not lessen until the train pulled away with me in the Jim Crow car. I had noticed the additional plan. A group of Black women teachers were arriving for their conference. As they stepped off the train, city Black women, hugged each, whispering, “Come with me. I will explain later.” As you looked at that scene, you would not know these women had never seen each other. But had been mobilized overnight for safety of all.

In DC you changed trains after showering off the soot in the segregated car. It wasn’t fear-free but it was a fear I knew. I never forget the fear of an unruly, racially angered crowd.

I have given up the idea of writing a novel. Life events are more potent than fiction. The lessons I learned at 20 included how to organize for safety and how to love and protect strangers.

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It never leaves, the sweat of fear.
I was lying on my bfack in the old truck, around me are my cousins and brothers. It is something we did at the country. We would count shooting stars while the house was closed and before we set off for Detroit forty miles, door to door.

But that night, my aunt and uncle had shooed us out early. They were solemn, more than usual. It seemed exceptionally quiet and we whispered the star count, making corrections if someone cheated. I always held my breath as a trail streaked the night sky.

Only the little radio in the kitchen cranked out scratchy sounds. While i could not understand it, there was a feeling. Doom. Mystery. Sadness. Fear.

I was familiar with this strageness. It starts with excluding the children, especially me. And was followed by hushed words.

What I learned later was there were reasons to worry. It was the event starting World War Ii. As a child, you learn the moods of adults around you. There are the worst times when you are virtually invisible. Like when someone is very sick or dies. You get your inside tied up inside, you stop breathing and you pull your shadow up into a small ball, hoping no one sees you.

The next time I remember there was a war brewing, raging, was Sunday, December 7, 1941. Living, attending high school in NYC, I had my own uncertainties. I stuggled to feel secure. Orphans and others who have shifting home lives, will understand the feelings.

We were spending a usual quite Sunday. After a large breakfast, my aunt rested while my uncle listened to opera on the radio. It was the kind they don’t sell any more. A floor model with both RCA radio and record player. The music had a soothing tone. My desk, and proof of study was the secretary with a drop down desk. You did have to remember to pull out the top drawer. Otherwise there would be no support to write on. Between me and the radio was the always present stack of NY Times papers and my uncle sitting, smoking his pipe.

Into such a tranquil scene, what could be so important as “we interupt this proggram…” Now we are so used
Lto Breaking News that we hardly notice. But then, to hear that America was being attacked by air in a place called …Hawaii. What could this mean for me, barely 15? I was distributing the Times at school. I decided immediately, i would save the issues to tell the story.

In time, the war either had to end or I would need a warehouse for storage. Instead we saved silver foil, used ration coupons for goods from sugar to shoes, and wrote letters until the boys came back men.

Postscript
It is a time of fear again. So many fears of increasing unrest. The sweat of fear reminds me of times to become small.

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