want to tell you a story.
It was the summer of 1961 in Clarksdale, Mississippi. A young black man, aged 17, together with a friend of the same age, pulled into a Gulf Service station off Highway 61 to get gas. Where the two were headed was unknown.
At that time, gas stations were full service so the young man pulled his ‘53 Oldsmobile up to the next available pump to get his tank filled. Gas was a mere fifteen cents a gallon, so two dollars was more than enough to get the job done.
Once his tank was filled, he spotted a water fountain. There was no sign that said whites only or coloreds only—it was just a regular water fountain. It was a hot day, so before he hit the road again with his buddy he decided to walk over and take a quick drink. For once, it’d be nice to take a sip of water as a human being and not just as a colored man.
As soon as he thought this to himself, the white owner of the gas station was outside with a .45 automatic pistol pointed at the young man.
“Nigger, if you drink out of that water fountain, I’m gonna shoot you.”
The young man paused and looked at the owner. “I just paid two dollars for gas here, sir. And I can’t have a drink of water?”
The owner advanced on him, “You know you can’t drink out of these fountains.”
The young man was angry. He was a human being. His money was just as good as anyone else’s, and despite having a gun pulled on him he wanted that drink of water anyway. But before he bent down to take a sip from the forbidden fountain, he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Come on, man. Let’s go,” said his friend. “It’s not worth it. Come on, let’s go.”
The young man realized in that moment that his friend had saved his life. Had he been alone, he would have risked his life for that sip of water.
That young man is now seventy-five years old.
That young man is my father.
This wasn’t 150 years ago. This wasn’t seventy five years ago. This wasn’t even sixty years ago. And yet here we are today in 2020 experiencing racial tensions that seem all too familiar to people like my dad.
Imagine living through the Jim Crow era only to have it be nearly sixty years later and you see the younger generation still being brutalized by the police and profiled because of their skin color. Imagine fighting for change only to have change still be a distant reality.
The people of this country have been conditioned to view black people in a specific light since they were forcefully brought here against their will. Now you may claim not to be racist, but I promise you, you’ll be put in a situation where that view of yourself will be tested.
But it’s also not enough to say you aren’t racist, you need to be anti-racist. In order to cure the sickness that this country has been suffering from for over 400 years, we have to vehemently oppose anything that withholds the mindset that one race is less than another.
People are finally waking up and recognizing the dark underbelly of this country for what it is. You can't run from it anymore. And while buildings may be burning and windows may be smashed, we won’t allow history to repeat itself, again. Change isn’t just coming—it’s here.
~ Malynda Hale [ @malyndahale ]