Traveling in the Jim Crow South

When I was about eight years old, my mom took my sisters and me by train, from Norfolk, Va. To Kinston, NC. If I remember correctly, my youngest sister was just a baby. They were all in one row and it was too crowded for me to fit in. So I sat in the row directly behind them. The rows held about three people each. Sitting in my row next to the window was a young black lady probably about 30 years of age. She seemed to keep her focus on what she saw from the window view and not on who she just saw sit in the same row as her. At this particular time in our nation, especially in these states, this was not usually done. The oldest of my sisters asked my mom if I had to sit there. She was only four but knew enough as to how the social mores worked. I told her and my mom that I was fine. When she started to say something to my mom a second time, I repeated what I had just said, but this time harsher and showing a look of anger. My mom said it was fine.

 The young lady, though, had a different look. She had a look of controlled defiance, but also looked genuinely upset. I’m sure, looking back on this, that this was not the first time this had happened to her, but now with a little boy! All because I was white, she could have been forced to change her seat. She sat in that seat until her stop without a word or a glance. I, on the other hand, was embarrassed to the point that my face was flushed and hot. I didn’t do anything wrong, but I was ashamed. The fact that anyone had that kind of power, especially just because of the color of your skin, should cause you to feel shame. As she got up to walk past me when she got off, she glanced at me. The look on her face had not changed. Impassive. Stoic. Yet her eyes betrayed the hurt she was hiding. How long would injustice like this continue?

 I never forgot this episode in my life. Maybe, and hopefully, God was using this to instill something in me that I’d never forget. If you can’t show Christ in you, how can you effectively represent Him in any way? I, and all of us, fall short of His glory and can so easily be terrible examples of a God that says we are all His children. It does not take someone to preach a prophetic message to get people to realize what is happening in our world today. Turn on the TV. Read a paper. Listen to some of the vile things said by people within earshot or just spouting an opinion and finding nothing offensive in what they say even though it is littered with filth. Colossians 3:8 says “put off all anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language from your mouth.” But it also says in Matthew 12:34, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” If wrong thoughts are in you, they will eventually come out. Guard your heart with all diligence for out of it springs all the issues of life.

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