When I see all of the publicity these days concerning racial conflict in the USA, I am reminded of my only three experiences with “Blacks” when I was travelling in the USA.
In 1942 two High School chums and I decided to take the short jaunt from St. Thomas to Detroit to see the famous stripper, Sally Rand.
We were early for the afternoon show so we entered a cafeteria for lunch.
It was crowded to the gunnels!
We three were sitting at a table for four. I noticed a coloured woman standing outside of the door, waiting for a place inside.
I went to her and invited her to sit with us. She was very reluctant, pointing out that we were sitting in the “White Section”. I took her arms and led her to the table, held the chair and seated her.
Before we knew what was happening the Manager was at our table attempting to drag the woman away and using strong and foul language in reminding her that she was “out of her place”!
We said that if she couldn’t join us then we were obviously in the wrong restaurant and we left, making a show of our departure and the reason why!
In 1944 I was travelling by train from St. Thomas through Detroit and Chicago to Minneapolis where I would catch the SOO Line to Moose Jaw.
Unfortunately I arrived at The Loop in Chicago at midnight and my SOO train was not due to depart until 0600.
To fill time I had a haircut that took 15 or 20 minutes still more than 5 1/2 hours to fill!
I went for a walk. After walking for an hour I came across a Bar and decided to drop in for a beer and to fill some time before returning to The Loop.
The Barman was at the far end in discussion with a man I called down for “A beer Please”… and got no response.
After a few minutes I called for a beer once more still no response form the Barman – just then I felt a hand on my shoulder.
I turned and there stood the biggest Black man I had ever imagined! He was huge!
“You know where you is?” he asked.
I looked about the Bar and for the first time realized that all were Blacks!
“Sorry. I’m Canadian and just putting in time between trains. No offence intended.”
“No White boy ever come ‘dis far into the neighbourhood and live!” he said.
Now I was getting the message! And I was an hour’s walk from The Loop!
The chap returned to his booth and explained the situation to his friends “I’ll be back” was all I heard.
He smiled, took me by the arm and said “I’ll jest see ya safe back to The Loop.”
He took my arm and for the next hour we walked together, chatting and exchanging friendly notes.
I got back safely and caught my train all because a very big Black Man took me under his wing!
In 1960 our Army Staff College Class was visiting New York City to see the UN.
Garry Hammond and I dropped into a cafeteria for a quick bite.
Our waiter was Black.
I have never in my life seen such hatred in any man’s eyes. There was no question he would have loved to cut both of our throats!
What had happened in those 15 years? Lack of civility had turned to open hatred!