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You talk about your life at home. I was wondering if you could go back to when you were just growing up in L.A. because I remember when we talked to you before you talked about how there was this very together feeling in your community. Can you tell us about that?
It's very interesting, we integrated a neighborhood. The neighborhood that we integrated, we moved in, Annette Landry moved next door Leohn Jones, moved down the street and Michael Coonence moved up the street, so there was about four or five black families that moved in this neighborhood. The rest of the neighborhood was pretty much Irish-Catholic and we stayed and the neighborhood stayed intact for about five or six years. We all grew up together to high school. Everybody just got along. It was an amazing thing we never had any problem when we moved in. The families embraced us and took us in all and the kids we hung out together.
He got on the bus and he sat right in front of us and he said, "hello." He kept looking back at us and finally turns around and says, "ma'am, you don't need to sit on that hard bench with the baby. Why don't you all sit here and let me sit there?” My grandmother knows the rules and she says, "no, no thank you, that's really nice of you." And he says "no” and kept insisting. She kept saying "no" because she knows the rules, but then finally he appealed to her compassion and says, "well, you know, to tell you the truth I really wanna sit back there because I got out of the army about two months ago and I'm on my way home, just now getting home. My family doesn't know I'm back in the country, and I'm tired, and I'd really like to stretch out." So then momma said okay. She moved up front. We rode like that for a while, and I guess the bus driver looked in the rear view mirror and saw it. When we got to the next thought it was like science fiction; I had seen pictures of them in books, but I didn't know they were real, because we just barely had electricity most of the people in our town did not. We were considered kind of wealthy. As I told you the other day I didn't know there was such thing as a touch flush toilet, which I think is one of mankind's greatest inventions, having grown up with an outhouse.
But anyway, the cops come onboard and tell him he's got to move and he;s still resisting. My grandmother is saying, "no, please, it's OK, it's OK." And they say finally, "if you don't move, you're going to jail”. And he says "take me to jail." I remember it, but plus I heard the story before my grandmother died, she would tell people about it. When that happened my grandmother really started crying, because she's thinking, and I heard her say this later, she's thinking "if they take this white man to jail, what are they gonna do to us?" She says and sstop he came back and told the man he was going to have to switch. Didn't say anything to my grandmother who's senior to this fellow by about twenty years, and he says, "no I'm OK", he says "oh, no, no, no, they didn't do anything wrong, I wanted to sit back here." The guy says, "I don't care, you gotta switch." This argument ensues and finally the guy, this young man, says to the driver, "Mister, this is an elderly lady. They don't need to sit on this hard bench. And the guy says "I don't care. They've gotta switch." Long story short, he says, "if you don't switch I'm going to call the cops." He says, "well, go call them." Two police men come onboard, which I had never seen, policemen in blue uniforms with the cap before except—I didn't know T.V. was a real thing at that time. I he's also thinking she's got to tell my momma something about what happened to her baby if something happens to me, and so she starts pleading. The guy looks at my grandma and says, "OK", and we switch back. The most significant thing about that—well two things. Number one the rest of the trip until he got off—he got off before we did he—he couldn't really look at us. He kept apologizing, like, "it's not your fault." And he kept apologizing, and he could hardly look back. Whereas he and I had been playing the whole trip before that, he didn't say much to me after that. And two the other significant issue was that had a lot to do that shaped my views on white people in growing up. What I'm most grateful about, and I know it had to do with the kind of person my grandmother was and my family are the kind of people—my family was—is that my focus on how I deal with people ended up being on him, and not on the police, not on the bus driver. And it wasn't until much later in life because it my mind's eye, I don't know if it's accurate, but I can almost see him for the rest of my life. I can see the beard I know the complexion that he was I know the color of his hair. I have no idea what those other people look like. They didn't register with me at all. I remember the blue uniforms because the cops uniforms weren't far different from the bus driver the greyhound driver's uniform. His was a little greyer, theirs were dark blue.
It was a beginning experience, so moving into and being around white people when we moved in that neighborhood was not foreign, and what happened there was I found more of the same. I told you all the story about Mr. Bergen who took us all to the beach and then socked a guy who didn't want the black kids in the group in his restaurant and then in their discussion used that magic n-word, and Mr. Bergen just dropped him. Those things shaped my view. Now, there were tons of ugliness that came from white people too all my life, but I was raised not to focus on ugliness. You recognize it, you know its there, you resist it, you fight it, but if you're going to deal on something, you dwell on the positives. Quite frankly that's what I've tried to do all my life even in this redevelopment process, try to dwell on the positives. Cause I believe if you dwell on the negatives, then your circumstances devastate you, and your circumstances destroy you. And no one should ever allow them to be destroyed by circumstance, because it's not what happens outside of you that determines the kind of person you are, its what's going on inside of you.