“From the Bridge”

The South in 1951, from Seawater One

As the bus headed into the night, I noticed that the bench seat in the back of the bus was vacant. So I took my blanket and pillow, made my way to the back and stretched out. Rumbling along I was vaguely aware of the stops we made, but the night passed quickly. Eventually it started getting light outside, but looking around I saw that most people were still sleeping, including a Negro woman wearing a Navy uniform. She was a WAVE and must have boarded the bus sometime during the night. I had no idea where we were, but it didn’t matter as long as we were heading west.
Slowly the passengers woke up and looked around, including the young Negro lady. I never had a problem talking to people, so, striking up a conversation, I discovered that she was going home to Oklahoma City. I told her about being a cadet at Farragut and that I was now heading to California for the summer. Time always goes faster when there is someone to talk to and we had the entire back of the bus to ourselves. The first inkling that something was wrong came when we got off the bus for a rest stop in Little Rock, Arkansas. The driver told me that it wasn’t fitting to sit in the back of the bus with a Negro. I was dumbfounded, and coming from the North, I didn’t understand. I tried to explain that this woman was wearing the uniform of her country, but it didn’t make any difference. That’s just the way it was in the South!

We ran into the same kind of bigotry in the diner at our next rest stop, but before I could make an issue out of it, she hushed me up and explained that she just wanted to go home and didn’t need any problems. The two of us sat in the section for “Negroes Only,” where they served her but not this white boy, which is what I was called, along with other derogatory remarks. Never mind, I shared her sandwich and I guess they were just glad to get rid of us when we boarded the bus again. Behind me, I heard someone say something about my being a “nigger lover”…. Big as life, I sat in the back again! This time no one said anything and everything seemed forgotten by the time she got off in Oklahoma City. Another driver came aboard and took over. Saying goodbye to my friend, I got up and moved back to the seat I had had originally — the one over the big hump for the rear tires!


Bigotry is Ugly

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