It was 1953, in Hampton Virginia, where we had just moved from Erie, Pennsylvania. My dad had been recalled into the Air force for the Korean Conflict. His “Greeting” letter from Uncle Sam had been a shock. We had to leave our newly remodeled house behind and move to Virginia to be with him.
I was on the city bus riding home from my high school in Newport News. A young man, a college student, arms loaded with books boarded the bus paid his fare and grabbed on to the nearest railing.
The bus pulled out into traffic. “Move to the back of the bus,” the driver snarled. The black student ignored him. “I said now, move to the back of the bus,” he repeated.
“No sir,” the student replied. “I am getting off in a few blocks.”
I watched in amazement. I had heard about the civil rights movement but had never encountered such an incident. I silently cheered for the young man. The driver’s face got redder as his anger rose. He jammed on the brakes and pulled into a fire station. Two burly firemen came out to see what was going on; when the irate driver told them, they boarded the bus and physically threw the student out the door.
I was so shocked that for a moment I didn’t know what to do. Then I got my whit’s about me, opened my notebook and recorded the driver’s name and ID number from the front of the bus and the number of the fire station, then described the event on my paper in a few words. My knees were shaking as I went to each passenger on the bus and asked them to sign my petition. Most passengers, about 20 of the 30 on board signed it.
I really didn’t know what to do with the petition itself … at home over dinner I told my parent what had happened. They praised me and encouraged me to do something with the petition. I took it to school and my English teacher persuaded me to write an article and send it along with the petition to the bus company.
I did. Sad to say nothing ever came of it, no response or explanation ever came.
To this day, I haven’t forgotten the young man and his humiliating experience. As a young person, I became aware that discrimination is insidious and we all must monitor our feelings and actions toward others. Because of it I became a champion of the underdog.