My memories of riding to Florida in the back of my grandfather’s Buick included the shock of seeing unpainted houses overflowing with poorly-dressed children, their bare feet painted red with Georgia clay. Growing up white in a segregated neighborhood and church, I stared at the foreign landscape and people outside the car window that seemed more National Geographic than LIFE Magazine. Black men, women, and children picked cotton under the unforgiving sun while white men sat in the shade of their pickup trucks.
But most troubling were the signs. When we stopped at one of the many Stuckey’s gas stations and souvenir shops, I was shocked by the “Whites Only” drinking fountains. Around back was a rusty spigot labeled “Colored Only” next to restrooms designate with the same labels. Even as a second-grader, something deep inside me revolted at the idea of “us” and “them.” Me with my Keds sneakers heading to a Florida beach; them barefoot, slaving in a cotton field. Me, drinking from a sparkling fountain; them, their mouths under a dirty faucet. I feared what lurked behind the “Colored Only” restroom sign. [Continue reading]