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the day I integrated a Woolworth’s lunch counter

August 22, 2011

February 2, 1959, my parents and I moved from Butler, Missouri, to Shreveport,

Louisiana.  It was the day before “the day the music died”.  We awoke to news that

poor weather and an error by pilot Roger Peterson brought down his Beechcraft

in an Iowa cornfield — killing him, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big

Bopper” Richardson.


It was a rough start to my life as a Southerner, but in no way did it help prepare me

for what I’d soon see.  Louisiana, like the other Deep South states, was on the verge

of the main conflicts of the Civil Rights Movement.


The schools in the Midwestern town we’d moved from were integrated.  I had black

classmates and friends.  My first days in Shreveport stunned me.  Water fountains

were marked “White” and “Colored”.  Gas stations had three washrooms: “White

Men”, “White Women” and “Colored”.  The two races had separate box offices at

movie houses, and separate music events.  I discovered that I couldn’t attend

any of the concerts of the great R&B artists like James Brown and Jimmy Reed.


Shortly after we moved there, my new friend Purgie and I went downtown.  At

lunchtime we decided to eat at Woolworth’s, the retailing pioneer that was a

forerunner to Wal-Mart and Target.  Woolworth’s was known as a “five and dime”

store because of its low prices.  That included its meals, too.


So into the store Purgie and I ventured, seeking a ten-cent burger.  The lunch

counter just inside the main entrance was packed, but I noticed another counter

in the back with some seats open.  Before Purgie could stop me, I hurried back

and sat down.


Then I noticed that I was the only white person there.  The black patrons ignored

me, but I wonder if they were thinking  “What indignity is Whitey subjecting me to

now?  Lord, deliver me from this scrawny honky.” 


I don’t know if I would have been served there.  Purgie came back and yanked my

scrawny honky ass away.  I’ll never know if I could have been part of history.  It’s

probably just as well.

  1. Charlotte Wales permalink
    August 22, 2011 3:49 pm

    Good thing we’re (mostly) past that now – – at least those of us with common sense. I think it’s sad that so many people, out of ignorance, prejudice, lack of opportunity, or purposeful race-bating, never get to experience other cultures or views; such a lack of diversity sure would make life dull.

    • August 22, 2011 4:36 pm

      I’m sure you well remember what it was like in that atmosphere of bile we were both caught in. Do you see any similarities between the racism of that time and the treatment of Muslims today?

  2. Chris permalink
    August 22, 2011 4:30 pm

    You and Rosa!

    • August 22, 2011 4:37 pm

      But will the Neville Brothers ever have a song about me?

  3. Anonymous permalink
    August 22, 2011 6:41 pm

    I think it will be titled “Scrawny Honky Ass”

    • August 23, 2011 9:25 am

      I eagerly await their next CD.

  4. August 22, 2011 7:04 pm

    So your new nickname is SHA?? LOL I am also glad that most people where I live are very accepting and not bigoted.. I know several bigots online, though, and I just wonder why they can’t see that we are all the same inside.

    • August 23, 2011 9:27 am

      Maybe because their anger, fear and ignorance limits their eyesight, Beanie.

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