And I Walked

I have always loved exploring different neighborhoods. My parents moved to Manhattan in 1951, when I was almost 14, and I was able to get to see places as varied as Orchard Street and East End Avenue. The Third Avenue El was still in existence, and I was able to take a ride on the train despite the fact that subway fares had zoomed from a nickel to a dime three years earlier. The views from the windows of the train were fascinating.

When Christmas vacation came, my parents and I went to Miami Beach. The views from the train windows were even more fascinating than those I had seen from the Third Avenue El. Shortly after leaving Union Station in Washington D.C., I was able to get a direct view of the Capitol Building. Wow! As we went south, I saw real palm trees--not photographs--for the first time in my life.

For a day or two, I was happy to sit on the beach and swim in the ocean. But I had a real need to see more of Miami Beach. My parents said that they would remain at the oceanside while I did my exploring. I decided to get on a bus and then walk back to the hotel. It didn’t matter where the bus was going, since all of Miami Beach was unfamiliar to me.

The bus was only about a quarter full. In the front, there was a sign saying “This part of bus reserved for white race.” In the back, a sign said, “This part of bus reserved for colored race.” There was no boundary line, suggesting that the division between front and back would vary according to how many passengers of different races were riding at any moment.

I decided to defy the signs. I sat in a row in back of a black woman. When I sat down, she got up and moved to a row in back of me. I saw that my attempt at desegregation had failed. I couldn’t think of any other tactic. I got off the bus and walked.