Recap: Yonah visits the Chaneys. Seeing the love there, he realizes how much he misses having a real family that cares about him. He’s debating if he should go to the protest in front of Woolworths.
The next day, I noticed that the history teacher kept avoiding eye contact with me. He skipped ahead to the Industrial Revolution chapter, even though we hadn’t really finished with the Civil War. I wondered if he decided to do that because I was asking about slavery. How could he just gloss over slavery? I didn’t get it.
As we filed out of the class, the teacher announced, “There will be a test on the Civil War tomorrow. There will be multiple-choice questions and an essay.”
I avoided Jed all day. My stomach still ached from the punch he’d thrown at me. I dreamed of hitting him back, but I realized that that would just escalate. He was bigger and stronger, and besides, I had to keep reminding myself of the civil rights workers’ philosophy: “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence.” After class, Henry asked me to go swimming with him again.
I felt bad saying no, but I felt I had to go to the protest.
“I can’t today. Sorry.”
He didn’t ask why. I thought he looked a little hurt. I was afraid to tell him what I was doing today. He was my one good friend and I didn’t want to lose him. He couldn’t help his view of blacks and whites, because he was raised in this environment. I had an advantage.
Henry and I walked out of school together. We parted near Henry’s street and I headed slowly towards the center of town. I kept saying to myself, I am not afraid. I am not afraid. A crowd was gathering in front of Woolworths. Most of the people were black. The air was still and sticky. It was a super-hot day.
An angry crowd of white people faced the protesters. Some were holding bottles or brooms. They were all shouting.
I saw James and I sauntered over and joined him. We stood in the hot sun for what felt like hours. A police car drove up and the sheriff barked at the protestors. He told us to stop and leave. Mickey yelled, “These people just want to get served at the counter. It’s their right.”
The sheriff smirked at Mickey. “You go back to where you come from and stop disturbing the peace. We had fine peace and tranquility till you showed up riling all the Negroes.”
The sheriff strode over to Mickey and handcuffed him. He drawled, “You keep makin’ these protests and I’m gonna get you Schwerner. And that’s a promise.”
The protestors started yelling and then the angry crowd of whites began throwing bottles and brooms and sticks.
I ducked. Something hard hit me in the corner of my forehead. I felt a sharp pain and then something sticky was dripping down my face.
I watched the crowd disperse. I worried about Mickey in jail. Would he get beaten? He’d spoken about beatings in the Mississippi jails; knowing the jailers, I didn’t’ doubt the veracity of that. I hoped Mickey would be okay.
I walked away from the crowd. I had to clean up this wound before I went home, or they’d know where I’d been.
I stopped in a drugstore and bought a box of tissues. I prayed that I didn’t need stitches. I was careful to walk with one side of me facing away. Last thing I wanted was to rouse the curiosity of the evil neighbors. The Hartsteins would not want me participating in any civil rights protests. I sneaked into the house and raced down the stairs to my room. My head was throbbing, and the tissues were soaked with blood.
To be continued…
Susie Garber is the author of Denver Dreams (a novel, Jerusalem Publications, 2009), Memorable Characters…Magnificent Stories (Scholastic, 2002), Befriend (Menucha Publishers, 2013), The Road Less Traveled (Feldheim, 2015), fiction serials and features in various magazines including A Bridge in Time – historical fiction serial (Binyan Magazine, 2017). She writes for the community column for the Queens Jewish Link and she writes the Queens page for Hamodia. She works as a writing consultant in many yeshivos and she teaches creative writing to students of all ages.