In November of 1955, when I was ten years old our family moved from Dayton, Ohio to Miami, Florida. I believe Mom flew and my siblings, John and Wendy, and I drove with Dad (Harold). The car was a peach, 1955 Plymouth sedan. While on the road Harold asked us to throw all the “non-essentials” out the window and that included a full sized umbrella. With any luck at all the drivers that followed on that roadway survived unblemished.
There was no interstate to follow during that cold November drive. As a result we went through the Kentucky and Tennessee hills spotting numerous hillbillies as well as what I was later to understand were moonshine stills.
Without warning, in the Deep South, I saw water fountains that said “Colored only” and bathrooms with the same term. Years later I learned those bathrooms were soiled beyond belief relative to the White rest rooms.
One collegiate quarter, after finals, in the mid-60s, I was driving to Miami and entered a county in South Georgia. I was stopped by an officer who quickly discovered I was not only driving, I believe, with a taillight out, but in addition my registration was expired. He said with two infractions he had to put me in jail unless and until I could provide bail.
I soon discovered what was meant by the term bail bondsman and managed to avoid being put behind bars. I have believed to this day had my last name NOT been Rubin, this incarceration threat never would have occurred.
As a resident in pathology in both Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia I continued to see remnants of racial animosity. I worked first at Emory University in Grady Memorial Hospital in downtown Atlanta. I didn’t discover till years later that just a few short years before I arrived there this public hospital had been segregated.
In my apartment complex at that time, 1971-1972, I befriended a news photographer for ABC. One day he told me that he had been sent to Mississippi during the worst of the racial tension in the 60s, He said during that time he met the bravest man he had ever met, Medgar Evers. Medgar, of course, had been martyred fighting for the cause of racial freedom.
Finally in Augusta in 1974 and 1975 I lived in a cookhouse with bedrooms on a former, antebellum plantation. The owner was a physician who gave residents at the medical center a cut rate which I believe was $90/month for the house rental. He and his family lived in the main house and its basement had narrow, rectangular windows with bars that had kept the male slaves confined at night. Seeing this vestige of slavery each day was a constant reminder of the anguished life of the American slaves.
Martin Luther King fought this animus against his people. He was at his most persuasive in his negotiation with a committee led by Chicago’s Mayor Daley. The meeting concerned the committee’s alarm over a planned civil rights march. The meeting is described in Bearing the Cross by David J Garrow which I’ve reviewed on another post on my blog.(https://examplewordpresscom62751.wordpress.com/2018/04/19/bearing-the-cross-by-david-k-garrow-a-definitive-biography-of-mlk-a-book-review/)
With faith and touched by the Holy Spirit ( Counselor of the Trinity), from my view, he said: “Now, gentlemen, you know we don’t have much. We don’t have much money. We don’t really have much education, and we don’t have political power. We have only our bodies and you are asking us to give up the one thing we have when you say, ‘Don’t march.’ We want to be visible. We are not trying to overthrow you; we’re trying to get in.”
As to the pain of not getting in, it was never more visible to me than one Sunday in medical school when an African American underclassman took me to his church. A very, elderly, Black woman at the service felt overwhelmed by her pain, stood up and began to not sing, but wail. She moved all four limbs ever more forcefully. The pain of being trod under foot for decades was evident, I believe, to all of us. We felt her pain. It was as though she sang the blues and the melody echoed across the rafters. It’s been nearly 50 years, but I will NEVER forget her anguish.
H. Robert Rubin, memoirist and author of Look Backward Angel, an e-book on Amazon and How Did I Get Through This? to be published on Amazon this year