“Maryanne!” called a voice behind me. Julia Hudson, my best friend came trotting up towards me, “Are you coming to join the sit-in?”
“No, I’m just taking the kids to the museum.”
“Would you just consider it at all?”
“I’m trying to keep my family out of trouble. I don’t want my kids looking in the mirror and being ashamed of who they are.”
“If this works, blacks won’t have to be ashamed and you shouldn’t either.” And with that she walked across the street and into Woolworth's and took a seat.
“Lucy, Mitchel, come on,” I said as calmly as I could, trying to herd Lucy and Mitchel into the Nashville Natural History Museum. I saw a “Whites Only Restroom” sign and scowled. I tried to block it, but Lucy was too quick.
“Mommy, why does that sign say “Whites Only”?” she asked with a gleam in her eye, “I am wearing my white dress!” Lucy twirled on her heel to show off her dress.
I forced a smile. “It’s not like that, honey,” I sighed.
Mitchel stared at the cracks in the sidewalks. “Then what does it mean?”
I hesitated. “It’s hard to explain.”
As we walked towards the front of the museum, I steered Lucy and Mitchel away from the crowds of protesters.
We walked through the first exhibit only to be stopped by a white security guard.
“Sorry, missy,” his voice was rough with a southern accent. “Only whites past this point.”
“We were here last week and we were allowed back there.” I protested. He flashed a toothy smile with no empathy.
“Not anymore.” I grabbed Mitchel and Lucy’s hands, turned on my heel and stormed off.
I was fuming until we walked by Woolworth Diner. I saw four freshmen, Julia, and a few other people sitting at the counter smack-dab in the middle where everybody could see them. Mitchel paused in the window.
“Come on, Mitchel,” I said, stretching out my hand.
“Okay, but why do they not get food?” he asked, pointing at the group of people.
“The people in there…” I thought about it. “Other people think they’re too different.”
“But everybody is different. Just like me and Lucy. She likes to play outside at the park and I like to read.” he said. You know, for a nine year old, he was pretty smart.
Once we got home, Mitchel picked up his book and plopped down on the couch. Lucy grabbed three of her paper dolls and headed to her room to have a tea party.
I set down my purse on the kitchen table and sighed. This is not the world I dreamed of when I was a kid.
I had dreamed of a world where people were treated equally and fairly. Everybody was kind and welcoming. I mean, pretty much everyone hoped that about the world, but I thought that’s what the world was actually like. This isn’t what I thought it would be like. In some ways, the world is friendly. It just depends on who you ask.
“Mrs. Thomas, is that you?”
“Why, yes, Mr. Thomas,” I laughed.
“Hey, Maryanne!” Sam strode into the room.
“Hello, Sammy,” I said.
He sighed. “Protesting is getting worse.” My smile disappeared.
“I heard. Last week Julia and her husband, Ben, started joining sit-ins.”
“In some ways, that’s good.” He gave me a hopeful smile. “We can’t keep them away from this forever. This is their world, too.”
“I know. It’s just…” I felt like sobbing. “This shouldn’t be Lucy and Mitchel’s world. They deserve so much more.”
“Look, Mitchel is nine and Lucy is turning seven tomorrow. They should know.”
I chewed on my lip. “Fine, but after Lucy’s birthday. Now, I have to cook dinner, so you can go back to watching your baseball.” He smiled and walked back into the den.
I cooked a beef noodle casserole (Lucy and Mitchel’s favorite) and set the table. I called Sam, Mitchel, and Lucy into the kitchen, and pretty soon we were all eating. Except for Mitchel.
“Honey, what’s wrong?” I asked.
“It’s not fair.” He said. Everyone stopped eating.
“Wh-what’s not fair?” Sam asked, setting down his fork.
“We’re not treated right just because our skin is darker.” Sam and I exchanged nervous glances. He had figured it out. Even though I had tried so hard to hide it.
“How long have you known?” I asked.
“Since the museum this afternoon.”
“We have to tell you something,” I said. Sam and I told Mitchel and Lucy all about Jim Crow Laws and segregation. We finished the rest of dinner in silence.
“Is that why McKenna had to move?” Lucy asked.
“And James?” Mitchel added. McKenna and James were neighbors with them. The kids had become really good friends. The only problem was that McKenna and James were white and Lucy and Mitchel were black. McKenna and James’s parents didn’t like their children playing with blacks, so they had moved.
“Yes.” I sighed. “Yes, that’s why they moved. I’m sorry.”
Mitchel scowled. “THIS ISN'T FAIR!” he shouted.
“I’ll go talk to him,” Lucy slid out of her chair and followed Mitchel into his room.
Sam put his hand on my shoulder and said, “What can you expect. He’s been living with this his whole life and he didn’t know.”
The next morning, Sam and I woke early and decorated the kitchen and living room with pink, white, and purple streamers and balloons. I also cooked scrambled eggs, sausage, and pancakes. After I finished tying the last bow, I heard a door open.
“Quick,” I whispered, “Hide!” I dragged Sam behind the kitchen counter. I heard footsteps echoing down the hallway.
“On three,” I mouthed. “One...two… three!”
“Surprise!” we shouted in unison.
Lucy screamed. “This is the best birthday ever!”
“Let’s wait until Mitchel comes, then you can open your present.”
When Mitchel finally came down, his hair was messy and his eyes were red from a bad night's sleep. Lucy had already finished a pancake, two sausage links and a plate of eggs.
Sam chuckled. “You were hungry!”
Mitchel plopped down in a seat next to Lucy.
“Are you hungry?” I asked him, holding out a plate of sausage.
“Sure,” He snatched the plate out of my hands and poured a few sausage links onto his plate.
“Don’t talk to your mother that way!” Sam scolded.
“It’s okay.” I assured him.
We all sat down at the table with Lucy bouncing giddily in her chair.
“Well, let’s open your present!” I walked over to the counter and picked up a box with lavender wrapping paper and a giant pink bow.
Lucy tore off the wrapping paper turning it to purple shreds. I knew I should pay attention to Lucy, but I couldn’t help wondering how I could help Mitchel. I almost didn’t notice when Lucy finally got off all the wrapping paper.
“It’s a Barbie doll!” she squealed. “I love it!”
“We’re glad you do!” I smiled.
“I’ve lost my appetite,” Mitchel pushed his plate away and walked back to his bedroom. Tears started to form in the corners of Lucy’s eyes. I wasn’t going to let that happen.
I walked into Mitchel’s room. Mitchel was sitting on the corner of his bed with his back towards me.
“Mitchel?” I asked. “Can I come in?”
“I’m sorry, this room is for whites only,” he said sarcastically. He started to sob. I came in anyway.
“Baby, I’m sorry,” I said softly, “Is there anything I can do?”
“Unless you can end segregation, then no.” his voice was sharp and flat, with a bittersweet edge to it.
I thought about what he had said. “You know, I can’t end segregation, but I can help. I promise. Come with me!” I slipped my hand in his and walked over to his dresser. “Grab your coat and come on!”
I walked into my room and saw Sam sitting on his side of the bed reading the newspaper.
“Hey, where are you going in such a hurry?” he asked looking up from his newspaper. I told him about my plan.
“About time!” he said once I was done explaining my plan. I grabbed my coat and met Mitchel at the door.
I lead him down the streets of Nashville. We walked towards the Nashville Natural History Museum. But instead of stopping there, I crossed the streets and walked in to Woolworth’s. Julia beckoned me over.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, surprised.
“I decided I needed to stand up by sitting down.” I motioned Mitchel over and together, we sat down.
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