How Could I Love a Race of People Who Hated Me
There was a pretty strict system of segregation in Atlanta. For a long, long time I could not go swimming, until there was a Negro YMCA. A Negro child in Atlanta could not go to any public park. I could not go to the so-called white schools. In many of the stores downtown, I couldn't go to a lunch counter to buy a hamburger or a cup of coffee. I could not attend any of the theaters. There were one or two Negro theaters, but they didn’t get any of the main pictures. If they did get them, they got them two or three years later.
I had grown up abhorring not only segregation but also the oppressive and barbarous acts that grew out of it. I had seen police brutality with my own eyes, and watched Negroes receive the most tragic injustice in the courts. I can remember the organization known as the Ku Klux Klan. It stands out white supremacy, and it was an organization that in those days even used violent methods to preserve segregation and to keep the Negro in his place, so to speak. I remember seeing the Klan actually beat a Negro.I had passed spots where Negroes had been savagely lynched. All of these things did something to my growing personality.
In my late childhood and early adolescence, two incidents happened that had a tremendous effect on my development. The first was the first empty seats at the front of the store. A young white clerk came up and murmured politely:
“I’ll be happy to wait on you if you’ll just move to those seats in the rear.”
Dad immediately retorted, “There’s nothing wrong with these seats. We're quite comfortable here.”
“Sorry，” said the clerk, “but you'll have to move.”
“We'll either buy shoes sitting here，” my father retorted, “or we won’t buy shoes at all.”
Whereupon he took me by the hand and walked out of the store. This was the first time I had seen Dad so furious. That experience revealed to me at a very early age that my father had not adjusted to the system, and he played a great part in shaping my conscience. I still remember walking down the street beside him as he muttered, “I don’t care how long I have to live with this system, I will never accept it.”
And he never has. I remember riding with him another day when he accidently drove past a stop sign. A policeman pulled up to the car and said:
“All right, boy, pull over and let me see your license.”
My father instantly retorted: “Let me make it clear to you that you aren't talking to a boy. If you persist in referring to me as boy, I will be forced to act as if I don’t hear a word you are saying.”
The policeman was so shocked in hearing a Negro talk to him so forthrightly that he didn't quite know how to respond. He nervously wrote the ticket and left the scene as quickly as possible.