I am enjoying the company of my friends and family who have traveled to points all around the country, as well as to India and Afghanistan. I revel in their conversations of the events that occurred. Then I turn my focus inward, and ponder my own experiences as a child – too young to know, but old enough to sense realism.
My parents, with two babies in tow, moved from Greensboro, N.C., in 1957. My father had difficulties at first finding work due to the color of his skin, but eventually he landed a job in a steel mill. The pay and benefits were good and enabled Dad to provide for his family, which had increased in size from four to seven. We were a happy family and my parents did much to build confidence in their children to get a good education and take pride in any job we did.
To encourage the importance of family, every summer we would visit several relatives who lived in various locations along the East Coast. Whether we went to New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia or North Carolina, we always followed the same routine.
We would be giddy with joy as we watched our mother sort and pack the bright, cheery outfits, sandals and tennis shoes into the oversize trunk. Then she would prepare our road trip menu, which consisted of fried chicken, a loaf of Wonder bread, cookies, chips, fruit, a two-gallon cooler of water and a thermos of Dad’s famous strong coffee. At 4 a.m., we were on our way. Ten minutes down the road, someone asked, “how much further?” and “can I have a piece of chicken?” Boy, we were happy having our picnic in the car. We soon settled down and drifted off to sleep.
Then, inevitably, someone would have to go to the restroom. Dad would say, “hang on; we will find one soon.” Eventually we would arrive at a gas station where the clerk would give you a key on a long stick. The restrooms were not always the tidiest, but my parents were prepared and made the area presentable for their babies.
I can only imagine the fears and burdens my parents endured as they journeyed to the South to visit family in the late 1950s and early ’60s, where signs stated: “For Whites Only” and “For Colored Only.” My parents went out of their way to protect their children from the harsh realities of life.
But more than anything our parents ensured that our family vacations were beautiful times with amazing love, joy and memories that would forever be cherished by each of us.
As we grew older, we realized that our picnics in the car were out of necessity, for there were many places that were off-limits to us because of the color of our skin. I was always excited when my uncle and Dad’s friends would come to the house and go over every detail of the map. I thought they wanted to go with us, but could not. What was really going on was they were pointing out the route others had traveled, mapping out the safe sites for gas and restroom stops – the modern-day “overground railroad.”
My parents moved to the North for the opportunities that were available for people of color and to make a better life for their offspring. But they could not escape the biased, learned attitudes that are not limited to one race, religion, gender or nation. We must keep in the forefront of our minds that for every action there is a reaction. Those of us who will be the future leaders of our society will make decisions that will impact the future of our nation.