Photo/Courtesy of and photographed by: Raoul Knox
Robert Jr. poses with his mother, Leora, and his sisters, Josephine and and Caroline..
During the summer in the early 1960s, my cousin Robert Junior would come down from D.C. to spend a few weeks with Grandma and Grandpa Brown. It seemed to me that he was really down to see my brother Baby Ray, as he was called then, and would just go back up to the house to sleep in between staying with us. Robert Jr. is the son of our late aunt Leora and uncle Robert Boyd Sr., everyone always said he and Raymond looked like brothers, I thought so too. It had become a routine for me and Raymond to walk “over town” to pick up the mail on Saturdays and we kept up that practice even while Robert Junior was visiting. I always liked to be around Robert Jr. because he seemed to have a lot more freedom than we did. He could come and go as he pleased, and he was always happy to remind us of that fact. Once we’d started our one mile trek toward Remington, I settled into a leisurely stride and listened intently at the tales Robert Jr. would spin as we made our way down dirt roads and across wooden bridges. He told stories of how he was able to go anywhere, do anything, they really held my attention. I was awed at the fact that it never got dark in the city (because of the street lights) and at that he was allowed to be outside ‘to all hours of the night’.
We walked, talked, threw rocks and laughed a lot. We did finally get to Remington, made it to the post office, got the mail and then got down to the real reason we had come to town in the first place. It was time to go to the Remington Drug Store to get an ice cream cone. I’d been to the drug store on many a Saturday morning and this day was no different than any other except that we had him with us. Both Raymond and I huddled up next to the soda fountain counter to place our order. There were two other people sitting at the soda fountain so Robert Junior jumped up on one of the stools and started spinning from side-to-side in a familiar fashion, though he’d never been in the drug store before. Raymond got a bewildered look on his face and quickly tugged at Robert Junior’s shirt, “Hey, you gotta get down”, Robert Junior didn’t really pay any attention, just ask “Why”, curiously. “You just gotta”, Bay-Ray said (over time his nickname had been shortened from baby Ray to Bay Ray), he looked intent on getting him off that stool, a bit anxious. We knew there were unwritten rules around Remington, there were just some things we weren’t allowed to do, one was never speak to our white buddies when they were with their white friends, and the second was Colored people couldn’t sit on the stools at the Remington Drug Store soda fountain. Robert Junior was breaking one of those rules. He didn’t have the foggiest idea that blacks weren’t allowed to sit at the soda fountain, we lived in two different worlds… This was main Street Remington, Virginia and he was from Benning Road, Washington, D.C. and the two were as different as black and white. Robert Junior had never encountered racism in his all black world and he didn’t recognize it in ours, but he wasn’t getting off that stool. The man behind the counter stared sternly at him but only asked, “What will you boys have?” I was actually shocked that he hadn’t made him get down and stand to the side of the counter like we were (where we belonged). We all got a five cent vanilla cone and as we always did, we went outside, sat on the front stoop of the drug store and ate the cones greedily, talking and laughing. We never talked about the incident again.
That was the big sit in of 1962, right about the time Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Freedom Riders were trying to win the right to sit at lunch counters all over the South. I’d like to think that the equal rights movement came to Remington that day and that we “overcame” for just a while. He may not have made a difference, but I do believe that by being able to share this story with my family, Robert Junior’s “Sit-In of ‘62” will live on through the generations.