Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: SOCIAL (04/07/16)
- TITLE: Her Eyes Were Opened
By Pat Small
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That was about to change. She had recently married a sailor, and followed him to Millington, Tennessee, just outside of Memphis. Since military pay was barely sufficient for survival, she decided to go in to the city and look for a job. That’s how she happened to be riding the bus. Gazing out the window, she marveled at how different the scenery was from her native New England.
She wiped the sweat of August from her brow, and looked around the station for a water fountain. Heading in that direction, a sign caught her eye. “Whites Only”. Further along was another fountain with a “Coloreds Only” sign. She stared in shock. She had seen only one black person in her life, and just for the record, had thought he was handsome. It had never occurred to her that he would have to drink from a separate fountain! She felt the bile rising in her throat. Hastily she scanned the area for a bathroom. There, over the restroom doors, were similar signs. She ran to the one-marked “whites” and gave up her breakfast.
Jana dragged herself to a bench. Probably segregated too, she thought. She found a spot, and sank down. There would be no job-hunting today. Her heart pounded. She could feel it thudding against her thin white blouse. She knew she must look a fright. As bad as her outward appearance was, though, inside was a hundred times worse. Her innocence was lost. It was worse than losing her virginity.
She sat on the bench, watching the activity around her, until she calmed enough to get up and board the next bus for home. Her husband found her later, curled up in a ball on the sofa, her eyes red-rimmed, a stack of wadded up tissues on the floor. She had cried until she could cry no more.
The next day she walked to the library, and spent the day reading newspapers and magazines. She could hardly believe the words and pictures. Remembering yesterday confirmed, however, that it must all be true. How could this be? Her grandpa was part Indian, her grandma was Irish; the other side of the family was Scottish and French Canadian. Had they been discriminated against and suffered such humiliation? She did not know. She hoped not.
A few days later Jana went to the Ladies Missionary Society meeting. “I hope none of them dare to show their face in our little church”, she heard, when someone mentioned blacks. They were there to promote missions for heaven’s sake, and here they were expressing such hateful attitudes. Was it okay to take the Gospel to heathens in Africa while hating the ones next door?
She knew she had to do something. But what? She had no special talents, no money, no knowledge of how to fight such evil. Then, days later, she heard on the radio about a drive to register blacks to vote. She could do that, she thought. How hard could it be? She signed up, attended a day of training, and went excitedly to the registration location.
Her next thought was “what am I doing in a paddy wagon?” She and the other volunteers had only been trying to help. Nevertheless, she was under arrest. Her knees knocked. She trembled uncontrollably as she wiped away a tear. Jana thought she was going to be sick, but she was so scared she managed to hold it back. Soon she was in a cell with a large group of women. They didn’t all look as bewildered as she did. She discovered that they were accistomed to the anger and abuse. They had been involved in similar outreaches, they told her.
Nobody knows where I am, she worried. How can I reach my husband? We don’t have a phone, and I didn’t tell him where I was going. He would have been nervous about it. She finally got the idea to call the Legal Officer at the base. He was able to secure her release, but he issued severe warnings. Any further activism would adversely affect her husband’s career, he warned.
Her heart twisted. She would have to be more discreet, but she would find a way.
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