In 1952 my father received a job offer from a company in Florida
to build bridges. We were living in Buffalo at the time and I was
nine years old. Dad decided that we would travel there and spend
several weeks to see if this was an opportunity he wanted to pursue.
It would involve selling our home, leaving
friends and family behind
and starting a whole new life.
So we packed the car and began the trip to Florida. We stopped in
a small town in South Carolina for supper. We sat in the restaurant
for almost an hour and found people glaring at us. The waitress
refused to take our order and we ended up leaving and hungry. Apparently
they saw the New York State license plate on our car and did not
want to serve Yankees. I remember being terribly confused and upset.
I was unaware of the Civil War and its aftermath.
We stayed with my cousin's family in Florida. One night, while everyone
thought I was asleep, the adults were talking about life in the
South. My cousin told my parents about several lynchings of Blacks
in that town. Terrifying!
We took a few days to stay at a small apartment in Miami while Dad
had his interviews. Mom and I went to the local supermarket to buy
groceries. While she was shopping I wandered to the back of the
store and found two water fountains. One was labeled White and the
other was labeled Colored. How fascinating I thought, colored water.
So that's the fountain I chose. What a disappointment!
I returned to my Mom and said: "They're liars! There is no
colored water in that fountain." I remember the frightened
look on Mom's face. She grabbed my hand and rushed out of the store
without groceries. "You don't understand," she said, "things
are different down here and we have to be careful." Dad turned
down the job. My prayers were answered.
Last February we vacationed in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. We
were welcomed in all the restaurants. No one glared or even cared
that we had New York State license plates. This state was the first
one to ban the Confederate Flag. The year before, when we vacationed
in Treasure Island, Florida I did not find a single fountain labeled
Colored. I guess we have made some progress in the last 65 years.