Recap: Yonah spends some time with Andy Goodman. He tells him how the Civil War is being taught without mentioning slavery. They hear that there has been a cross burning at a black church.
The next day, I was planning to go after school to apply for a driver’s license. I wanted to drive here if a car became available. I figured it could help the Freedom School if I could drive. “Henry, you want to go with me to the courthouse?”
“Why, you in trouble?”
“Ha.” I poked his shoulder. “I wanna get a driver’s license.”
“Oh, sure. I got one, but I don’t have a car. I’ll go with you.”
“I don’t have a car either.”
We headed together to the courthouse. Though the sun was low in the sky, there was still plenty of heat. I felt myself sweating through my shirt.
“It sure gets hot here,” I said.
“That’s the South. It must get hot up North, too.”
“Well, yeah, but not this hot.”
I put on my cap. I didn’t want any trouble with anyone in the courthouse. I’d heard stories. We entered the large brick building. There was a guard at the front. I asked him where to go to get a license, and he pointed me towards an office at the end of the hall. Henry walked beside me. As we drew closer, we saw there was an black woman standing in line. The clerk saw us and motioned us to go ahead. “She was here first,” I said.
The clerk frowned at me. “She can wait. She’s a Negro.”
I felt a bubble of anger, but I tried to stay calm. I wanted to protest, but Henry urged me to go ahead. I went ahead but I was angry at myself.
She didn’t look at me. I felt so bad. I got the form to fill out. While I was filling it out I could hear what was happening with her. She told the clerk, “I’m here to register to vote.”
The clerk said, “You gotta wait till the clerk for voting comes back. Should be back in an hour or so.”
“The sign says, ‘Open 9-5,’” she said.
“I told you, you gotta wait.”
I saw how frustrated she was. She was moving back and forth in line. I felt bad for her. The clerk was purposely making her wait.
In the meantime, I took the driver’s test. When I came out of the room of the test, the lady was still standing, waiting for the clerk.
Finally, the clerk moseyed over to the desk and told her to come forward. I watched as she stood there. He asked her to recite the Preamble to the Constitution and she did. Then he asked her more questions. He asked her to name all the Justices in the Supreme Court.
Her shoulders sagged. He smiled and said, “You failed. Sorry, you can’t vote.”
She turned and trudged away from the clerk.
I wanted to say something but Henry, being there, made me shy, and anyway what could I say? I couldn’t change the law.
Henry commented, as we were heading back to my house. “It wasn’t fair what they did to that lady.”
That night, Mrs. Hartstein knocked on my basement door.
She toyed nervously with the button on her house dress before blurting out, “Tomorrow, there’s a community meeting. We think you should attend it. The Herrings always notice who comes and we don’t want to get on their bad side.”
I really did not want to go, but the next morning, I put on my best suit and the cap on my head and followed them to the library down the block. The head of the community group was Mr. Edgar Rae Killen, and his high-pitched frantic way of speaking grated against my ears.
He said, “We have to fight the communist influence right here in Mississippi and uphold our way of life. The blacks were decreed by G-d to be below the whites.”
I wanted to walk out but I was sitting between the two Hartsteins and had to stay in place.
“Ya’ll see someone getting involved with those foreign civil rights people with beards, ya’ll report to me. We know how to take care of them. Our business is not their business. They should go back to where they come from.”
My stomach rolled over. This was disgusting and cruel.
How could my Jewish relatives sit here and listen to all this hatred spewed against blacks and our own people? Many of the civil rights workers, including Andy and Mickey, were Jewish.
The meeting droned on until it finally ended.
When we walked out, Mrs. Herring approached me. “I want you to meet my nephew.” I wondered why she was singling me out to meet him. She led me to a heavyset man in his early twenties with a scowl. “This is my nephew, Wayne Posey,” she said proudly.
I shook his hand. His grip was almost painful. There was something sinister in his small beady dark eyes. “My aunt tells me ya’ll from the North,” he drawled.
“Best keep away from any of them civil rights people,” he said, and his words rang more like a threat than a warning.
I stepped away and followed the Hartsteins out of the library.
Mr. Herring accosted me. “Ya see how things stand here in our community. Preacher Killen told you what we expect.”
So, they knew I was involved. A feeling of terror filled me.
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.