1954 – a memorable year
The year 1954 is a memorable one for this writer. It was the year he got out of school to embark on a journey to the outside world. That was 57 years ago, but it seems as if it was just yesterday. It was the year he first ventured outside of The Bahamas into the United States, not as a tourist, but as a migrant worker on a contract between the Bahamian and American governments. The journey began in New Providence on a Flying Tiger aircraft at Oakes Field National Airfield and ended at West Palm Beach International Airport in Florida.
After going through immigration and customs, and a final examination by a doctor, I was given my letter of assignment to work for a Tom Hinman at Homestead, Florida. As an island boy, with very little to no knowledge of the outside world, I was about to experience what could be termed a culture shock. I was taken to an era long before my grandfather’s time, an era at the edge of insanity. This was insane. On entering the Greyhound bus for Homestead, I saw written in bold letters ‘I. C. C.’, which means International Coach Company: “Federal regulations require all other passengers to proceed to the back of the white line.” This line was subject to change to accommodate whites to the rear, but not to the front to accommodate blacks.
In south Miami an elderly black lady boarded the bus and sat in a seat in the white section. The driver, after traveling for a while, apparently saw her through the rear view mirror. He pulled off the road, went to the lady in a hostile manner and forced her out of the seat. On seeing this, I stood up and let the lady sit in that seat. I remained standing until some black passengers got off in Perrine. For 57 years, I was trying to erase that memory, but without success because the event left an indelible mark on my mind. In 1955, when Rosa Parks was arrested in Alabama for failing to give up her seat on a bus to a white person, it was a reminder of the incident on the bus in south Miami in 1954. The arrest of Rosa Parks sparked a bus boycott and the beginning of the civil rights movement.
In 1957, while traveling by Greyhound bus to Winchester, Virginia to work for that State Senator Harry F. Byrd, at the bus station in Winston Salem, North Carolina, the white passengers were served in an opened cafeteria while blacks had to order through a small window at the rear of the building, which was very humiliating to the black passengers.
The suspicion led me to reject any service from behind that window because under that condition the food was not safe for consumption. Later that day in Roanoke, Virginia blacks were allowed to enter the cafeteria but were denied service. The waitresses just pretended that we were not there.
There has been a tremendous change in that country since the 1950s, but there is still a long way to go, and it might take another 57 years.
– Prince G. Smith