Biographical Non-Fiction posted May 28, 2023

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A most unforgettable trip

A Lost Boy

by nomi338

Story of the Month Contest Winner 

It is important to note that 1960 was four years before legislation was passed outlawing discrimination in travel and dining here in the US. The Civil Rights law was signed into law by then President Lyndon Johnson.
I joined the United States Air Force in October 1960.
During my basic training, four other young men and I filed charges of physical abuse against an abusive sergeant.

I was to learn later, he had been charged a total of 66 times, but had never gone to trial. 

Needless to say, the brass was more than anxious to see this man face trial.
Despite some attempted bullying and veiled threats aimed at persuading me to back down, I alone remained steadfast. My refusal to recant my accusations along with my testimony led to his conviction.

I was warned by various sergeants that I had 'better watch my back as it was not a good idea to testify against sergeants, especially for me, a black person in San Antonio, Texas.'

In 1961 after I completed my basic training, and my Air Police training course, I was booked passage on a train leaving San Antonio, Texas, to arrive in Chicago approximately two days later.

I had travelled by train to and from San Antonio, Texas before and had always travelled via what was unofficially known as the Northern Route. These trains are totally integrated.

As far as I know, base personnel arrange trips to and from the base for enlisted Air Force members, whose fares are being paid for by the government. I cannot help but wonder, given my previous warning, if this train trip was not an attempt at some sort of vengeful punishment for my getting a sergeant in trouble.

I received my first hint during the boarding process. I was in line behind several white Airmen; and the conductor, with a friendly smile asked each one, "Where you headed, son?"

Each one politely replied, "Chicago, Sir."

When he got to me, the last one in line, with a frown, I got, "Where you goin', boy?"

Like I was a lost boy or something. I defiantly replied, "Chicago!"

No respectful "Sir," nothing else. Disrespect me and you get it right back.

I know it was childish; but I was only eighteen, fearless, and I just did not care.

As far as I know, I was the only black person on the entire train during that whole trip. I was in fact surrounded by white passengers but separated from them all at the same time. I had no interaction with any of them at any time.
I do not know how I did it, but I do not even recall using the bathroom facilities at all. I wonder what would have happened if I had needed to go.

The train had no dining car; so, in Oklahoma City, any passengers wishing to eat were required to board a bus that would take them to a restaurant owned by the train company.
We arrived at the restaurant and a nervous waitress came up to me and gently said that she was sorry, but they did not serve blacks in that restaurant.

Needless to say, I was shocked. I was from Detroit, and by the time I grew up I had not experienced that sort of thing. It very well may have existed, but I had not experienced it. She then informed me, if I did not object to eating in the kitchen, I could be fed. I was agreeable to that; so, going into the kitchen I met the cook, a white man from Chicago.

He gave me a plate loaded with food. We sat and talked as I fed, no, stuffed my face. He reassured me that things would not always be this way.
He then asked me where I was going to be stationed. When I told him, he gave me the biggest smile. It turns out he had been stationed there himself, and he promised me that I was going to have the best time of my life.
I left that restaurant full and as happy as I could possibly be, given the circumstances.

The trip continued without further incident. When we crossed the geographical line known as the Mason-Dixon line, the conductor underwent a remarkable metamorphosis.
He smilingly announced that from this point on in the trip there would be no more prejudice shown. I wondered if that meant he would be leaving the train.

True to his words, from that point on he became my chatty best friend. What a strange world prejudice creates.

Story of the Month
Contest Winner



* The Mason-Dixon line, also called the Mason and Dixon line or Mason's and Dixon's line, is a demarcation line separating four U.S. states, forming part of the borders of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and West Virginia (part of Virginia until 1863). This line never went as far as the Midwest.

Thank you Barbara Wilkey for the notes.

I am so grateful for my mother's training. I could have acted out and created a ruckus, resulting in my possibly being thrown off the train, arrested or any number of bad things that could have happened to a young black man in the South in 1961.

Fortunately, I maintained my composure and sat quietly for most of the trip until we got to Chicago.

This incident led to a poem that was eventually posted on FanStory. I called it "Black Boy on the Train."

It is no longer listed in my portfolio. I removed it and I have other plans for it.

Pays one point and 2 member cents.

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