Rudeness and Bus Seats
1955, Little Rock, Arkansas: I was seven years old. I was trying very hard to be invisible because my daddy was raving again and when my daddy raved, somebody usually got hit. Usually it was me.
I huddled into myself as small as I could, listening to what he was saying. Listening and remembering was crucial. Any tidbits of information about boundaries that he wouldn’t allow to be crossed could save me from a future whipping.
“Damn uppity black bitch,” Daddy said. “And that Eisenhower – he ain’t no better ‘n one a them hisself. I wish they’d take that black bitch and a big black buck too, adder they’d been out pickin’ cotton all day and handcuff one to each side of ole Ike and make him sleep with ‘em all night long and see how he liked that.”
I didn’t figure he’d like it much. I’d seen a picture of the president in a newspaper. He was dressed in a suit and tie. He probably wasn’t used to being around people who were hot and sweaty from hard work. I know when we came in from picking cotton, we sure didn’t smell like any bouquet of roses.
The thought of that clean, neat little man sharing the same bed with two people who had been out working in the sun all day struck me as funny. I could feel a giggle welling up but I tried hard to choke it down.
Daddy heard me anyway, even above his yelling. He whirled on me as he unbuckled his belt and jerked it from his pants loops. “You laughing at me boy?” He folded the belt in half as he advanced towards me.
As he beat me with the belt, I screamed and cried and promised I wouldn’t do it again (whatever “it” was.) Finally, he got tired, put his belt back on and went to work. I didn’t know it then, but the “black bitch” was Rosa Parks. The crime she committed that so incensed my father was refusing to yield her seat on a bus to a white man in Mobile, Alabama.
My father and Eisenhower died long years ago. Rosa Parks just passed away peaceably in her sleep at the age of 92. I don’t know what happened to the rude white man on the bus.