Chapter 55: Integration- Part 1: Or When Sunny Gets Blue

I’ve said it before, growing up in Danville, Virginia in the late 1960’s to early 1970’s was like growing up in South Africa under Apartheid.

Brown vs the Board of Education took many years to be fully implemented in the South and, as usual, I think Danville, Virginia  was one of the last cities to be desegregated.

But desegregation did finally happened in Danville- when I was in the 5th grade.

I still remember that day….Our white school was pretty much transferred en mass to a Black Middle School.  That’s how they did things then…

It was a very big day.  All our Mothers- who usually couldn’t be bothered by their children-  either took the day off from work or cut their Valium doses enough so they could take us to school.

Until this point, we had simply walked to school and they had done whatever it was they did…This level of interaction was unheard of- and frankly, unwelcome.  We were used to being left alone to work things out on our own and they were used to being, well, left alone.  But the times, they were a changing and this was the least we could all do…

My Mother piled us into her 1965 red Ford Fairlane and drove us the extra 5 minutes to the “Colored School” we were being transferred to.  .

The attire for the day, for the Mothers,  seemed to be Capri pants, white shirts with Peter Pan collars and flats.  They all must have all called each other first and aligned on the proper attire for a potential Race Riot.

They dropped us off and all stood by their cars to see what happened.  They seemed to fully expect 11 year olds to immediately start this race riot.

If this had happened, I don’t know what they thought they would do in those pre-cell phone days.  They surely would not have gotten involved.  I guessed they thought one of them would find the Pay Phone and they would call the cops then they would stand in line to call their husbands to come deal with the mess.  Or I guess they figured they would drive the getaway cars if the kids could escape the riot to get to them…

We may have been transferred to a Black School, but there were only about 5 Black kids in our class once this was all decided.

The Mothers seemed disappointed as they were expecting some excitement to break up the monotony of their lives….

The kids just went on with life like kids do if the adults stay out-of-the-way…

Integration really was a non-event to us– at least initially.

Of course, subtlety is always appreciated in the South and may take some time to surface…

A couple of years later, in Junior High School, I finally started to see the impacts.

I’ve always said, Molly Ivins was so right when she said “once you realize they’re lying to you about race everything else follows”.  My awakening started in Junior High School and took entirely too long to reach maturity…

I had a friend, I’ll call her Sunny, who was an African-American girl. She was from the local Black Aristocracy and she was brilliant and fearless.  Much more fearless than I was as a scared little middle class white boy who was just starting to suspect he was different in some way…

We were Hall Monitors in at O.T. Bonner Jr High School.  That means we got to leave class early and stand in the hall wearing orange straps and badges and scream at people who ran in the halls.  It was all so much simpler then….

Sunny liked to use these few extra moments of quiet time in the halls to chat briefly or do tour jete’s in the hall.  In those days, even though her parents were professionals and probably made more money than most of ours did, she couldn’t go to the local Dance Schools.  But she liked her tour jetes’….and she liked to chat.

We started to talk and became friends.  Very honest friends. We realized we were alike in so many ways.  We bonded as only 13 and 14 year-olds can…

We talked about my family,  my parents, the city and, eventually and carefully, race.  Looking back, I realize she listened, but never talked about her family…

One day, my Father was late picking me up after school…

Sunny and I had been sitting out front of the school for over an hour talking.  She seemed to be without a ride also.  I never knew why…Finally, my Father showed up in his new car.  Daddy was one of those men who used to live to buy a new car every other year…Image was everything.

Sunny and I walked down to the car and I leaned in the window and asked if he could give her a ride, too, as she was stranded.  He was a little puzzled, as if the thought of giving a Black child a ride had never occurred to him, but said okay.

Sunny danced around the car, jumped in the front seat, threw her arms around my Father and said: “I hear you don’t like Black people.  Are you sure you want to take me home”.

He was, to say the least, stunned.  I don’t remember his response except speechlessness…and he was never speechless…. but he took her home.  To her house that was bigger than ours….She leaned over and kissed his check and said thank you….Then she danced away into her house.

He had truly been speechless- which was very, very rare- since this entire episode began….

After she left, my Father slowly turned the car around and headed out of her neighborhood.  Finally he said:  “That little Colored girl has a lot of nerve.  You better both be careful.”

That was it….it was never discussed again.

Sometime after Junior High School, Sunny and I drifted apart…

I don’t remember seeing her in High School….

I do remember being in the Super X Drug Store in Ballou Park a couple of years after college and swearing I saw her…

She was in front of me in line and had a mixed-race baby on her hip.  I tried to catch her eye and speak, but she wouldn’t connect or acknowledge me.

I like to think it was someone else…

Surely Sunny would have recognized me and spoke to me…

I keep hoping so…

Even though I know it was her…

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2 Responses to Chapter 55: Integration- Part 1: Or When Sunny Gets Blue

  1. Pingback: Chapter 55: Integration- Part 1: Or When Sunny Gets Blue | My Southern Gothic Life | Lost in the 21st Century

  2. gail says:

    Great post, Scott, I am sure you could dig deeper into this one if you wanted to start another blog. I tell my children stories. They shake their heads while their poor demented mother recalls the past which, of course, has nothing to do with them.

    As a former ballerina (well, I DID take classes, so stop laughing!) it never dawned on me that Anne Boyer would have discriminated and not allowed anyone to enroll. Wasn’t she Hungarian (or am I thinking of her dog Frappe?) As I recall, she was a very serious, brusque woman, small in stature, never showing love (or even *like*) to anyone. I doubt that color would have stopped her from being who she was. I wonder if that barrier was self-imposed, as were so many barriers in those days, because we all knew what was expected from both sides of the fence. When we dared to climb that fence or even jump to the other side was what made people make the comments like your father. Sunny was definitely a fence jumper.

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