I see her Florida A&M sweatshirt. And I say, “I have some Florida A&M connections.”
“Really?” She is surprised. She is black. I am white. The school is almost entirely black.
“Yes, I do,” but then the airplane boarding line moves and we are separated.
I settle into my seat and start to read a newspaper, when she is suddenly walks up to me and then sits in the seat across the aisle.
“So, tell me about your Florida A&M connection.”
“OK, I will, but what is yours?”
“I graduated two years ago with a pharmacy degree. I now work in a pharmacy. There. Now, come on, tell me. I’ll have to go back to my seat soon.”
I say, “Back in 1960 I was wandering through the South, having dropped out of school, wound up in Tallahassee, and read about a Civil Rights demonstration that Florida A&M students were having. I decided to go by the school, went into a meeting room, saw the students before the demonstration and asked if I could join. They said I could.
“We marched on a cold day, ice and snow on the ground, and made some points at a local lunch counter, which had segregated seating. We marched back to the university, where I stayed a while and met a woman from Miami. I was from there. She was a leader in the demonstration.
“To make a long story short, and I better, because we will soon have to be in our assigned seats, the woman and I started to write, and the letters became quite warm. I told her that when I was back in Miami we should go out to eat, and then what I call ‘racial poison’ struck.
“She said that I was crazy, and that there was no place for two people looking like us to go in Miami without getting into a lot of trouble. I was hurt. She was realistic. We stopped writing. Maybe if we were in New York or Hawaii we could go out together, but not Miami of 1960. That’s the story. Again, ‘racial poison.'”
“Yes, that’s a good term for it, and now I’ve got to go back to my seat. Thanks.”
I’d wanted her to say more, speak about race, injustice, social class. But she had already gotten up and was on her way back to her seat.
I’d forgotten to ask her about the Florida A&M scandal that involved band members hazing other band members, one death resulting. Too late. Most institutions have some sort of crap.
I fastened my seat belt, and thought, “Come on, get real. Your Miami friend probably lives in the suburbs, takes cruises and has a second home, and the woman with the sweatshirt wants that, too.”
You might say, “Sour grapes. These two black women were not really interested in you, and in order not to accept that, you have them boxed into things you dislike.”
The plane was about to take off. My head jerked back. I found the newspaper I’d put aside, and went back to reading. I did wonder what life with the Civil Rights woman would have been, and what life with the sweatshirt-wearing pharmacist would be.
“Not great, just life, just a couple with the twist of race, normal, maybe, but theres that ‘racial poison’ angle, How long,I think.
I look out; the plane is in the clouds, thick white clouds.
By Eugene “Gene” Novogrodsky