Recorded on Jamglue.com
Poem: Lunch Counter, Summer 1959, Amarillo, Texas
Copyright 2010 Michael Muller
I was always sorry that we didn’t get arrested;
For years I felt guilty for arranging the
Compromise that allowed us to eat lunch together.
Liberal Religious Youth, on our way from L.A.
To a national convention in Toronto that summer,
Black and white kids, the only two colors those days.
I worked for months to earn the money, mowed
Sidewalks, swept lawns, sat on babies, gloating
Over the map of our long trip, the states to cross.
Our Greyhound charter bus full of song, dining
Roadside in the desert. Some bus drivers made sure
They drove for us on our return trip; now I realize
They were taking a stand of approval for more
Than just our spurt of joy and riot. All was
New for a fifteen year old. Big sisters
Advised about love, demonstrated hickeys on my arm,
Gave hope of entering a new country that
Had been closed to me. Crossing Arizona, New Mexico,
And now the panhandle. In Amarillo, as I stepped down
And off the bus, first foot on southern soil, I saw
Mounted on bus station wall, a neon sign, bright blue
Cursive writing, over a gleaming tailed and pointing
Arrow, “Colored Waiting Room.” The wonder
Of that moment is still with me, fresh with its
Complacent institutionalized wrongness. (Later,
In Oklahoma, there was no sign, just a very small
Room full of black people who knew where to sit.)
One of my friends refused to leave the bus, indignant
At the insult, later became editor of a communist paper.
My friend Reba got thrown out of bathroom not all right
For her. In a black and white world color sure meant
A whole lot. So, teenagers, needing food and adventure,
We strolled into town and came to a lunch counter.
“We can’t serve you,” said the waitress not much older
Than the eight or ten of us seated at her table. “Why not?”
She gestured waving her hands at our faces, “It’s just…”
I said, “We’re not leaving…..look, we’ll order for our friends.”
And in her newness, probably not reporting to anyone, the
Day a slow one at her restaurant, she brought us our food.
Fifty years passed I see that there was peril, danger;
Police were waiting when we left the lunch counter,
Somehow they’d been notified of this unprecedented
Confluence of events, following us back to the bus station,
Seizing the Danish student’s knife strapped to his thigh,
Eyeing us, waiting, watching strangeness, ready to act.
A few months later students in Virginia and elsewhere were sitting in at lunch counters.
Beginning in May of 1961 Freedom Riders rode buses throughout the South challenging its segregated policies.
My friends and I never spoke much about Amarillo but we participated in the Los Angeles boycotts of Woolworth’s and other stores in support of the sit-ins happening in the South. I still remember how angry people were, yelling, tearing up our leaflets and spitting in our faces.
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