As instructed, I wore my Sunday dress, little black heels and all-purpose trench coat. My hair was done up in a neat French twist (remember that style?).
CORE sent us out two to three in a car, plus driver. One car contained only CORE reps, so they could bail us out if necessary, I suppose, or act as witnesses to whatever happened.
The first time out, I was sent to the Little Tavern, in College Park. Frankly, I never wanted to eat there in the first place, but it was important to integrate any business that was part of a national chain. Three of us ordered hamburgers and sodas. No problem.
The next weekend, on my second time out, things got a bit dicey.
First of all, there was a young guy at the church who was itching to spend the night in jail. He had a guitar with him, and said he wanted to sing in jail. I just hoped I didn’t get stuck going out with this jerk, but I did.
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Mr. Jailtime complained about how easy that run was.
Our next stop was a totally different story. It was much farther north on Route 1, at a diner with front and side parking lots. Since it was early afternoon, both lots were quite full.
When six or eight of us started in the front door, the owner figured out the game plan immediately, and almost blew a gasket. He snarled and yelled that the place was closed, so we left turned around and left, no questions asked.
In what seemed like only a few minutes, the diner emptied out and the owner hung a “Closed” sign on the front door.
The guy also called the police. At first, I was glad, but then I remembered that this WAS Prince Georges County, probably the northern-most county of the south.
Meanwhile, we set up a marching path in the parking lot. Always careful to keep moving, stay 6 feet from the entrance to the building and out of the way of customers, we quietly walked back and forth, carrying signs, in hopes customers and passersby would support our effort.
By this time, my feet really started to hurt and it had started to rain. It was all I could do to walk at all, let alone in a straight line. I didn’t dare get too close to the building or I could be arrested. If we stopped marching, we could be charged with loitering or trespassing, since the business was officially closed. So, I trudged on, reminding myself that this was a good thing to do. Keep your eyes on the prize, and all that.
The PG cop arrived, parked, got out and leaned back against his cruiser. He stood there for the remainder of our saty, his arms crossed, waiting for one of us to trip.
It got chilly and the rain came down hard. Soon, the owner flew out of the front door, all red in the face, carrying a shotgun or rifle. I assumed he just didn't want to leave the weapon in the vacant restaurant but it didn't hurt to have it on him at that moment for the threat value, either.
As he made his way through the rain to the side parking lot, for whatever reason, he singled me out, glaring, spitting and mumbling in my direction as he and his gun hurried around the building to a shiny red Corvette in the side lot. When he passed me, he turned and screamed, “You four-eyed, nigger-f__king white bitch!”
By the time he got to his car, I was on the leg of my march that put me facing him. All of a sudden, that Corvette lurched backward, then forward and swung around the side of the diner, heading directly at me.
I froze. Should I move to my right and risk getting within 6 feet of the building? Or move to the left and get in the path of his car? I chose the right. Hell with it. If I get arrested, I get arrested. At least I'd be alive.
I didn’t trust the cop to save me, and it was a good thing. He never lifted a finger.
When the Corvette got within a breath away, the guy swerved and peeled north toward Baltimore in a blue cloud.
It was clearly time to leave, but Mr. Jailbird refused. He grabbed his guitar from the car, and shouted an obscenity at the cop. Sure enough, he got his free night in the PG County jail. Good riddance!
CORE took us back to the church, then I had to walk the last mile and a half back to my dorm alone, which was equally unnerving. I guess, by this time, word had gotten out about the protests. As I crossed Route 1, a southbound sedan filled with young white 20-somethings started tailing me. Once I turned onto campus, they drove alongside, hooting and hollering, calling me names and telling me what they were going to do to me for "nigger loving," all the way back to my dorm.
Now they knew where I lived! My feet were killing me, my shoes were wrecked by the rain and I was shaken to my bones for what had just happened at the diner, but I never gave them reason to think I heard one word of their abuse.