Norfolk State College: The Untold Story

“Big – Bad – Moses – Rose!”
“Da-da-da”
“Big – Bad – Moses – Rose!”
“Da-da-da”
“Big – Bad – Moses – Rose!”
“Da-da-da…”

Oh no, here he comes again, Moses Rose, football star extraordinaire, walking through the quad of the Norfolk State campus singing about his favorite subject, himself.
It was just after Christmas break early in 1972 and Moses Rose was the big man on campus. Before that Jo Jo Bethea held that crown. He doesn’t know it, but he and I were in Phys. Ed. together, but that is the extent of our contact or my knowledge of his short stint on campus. One minute we were in Gym class together, the next thing I knew he was thrilling the crowds at Clemson and later at the Norfolk Scope with the Virginia Squires in the American Basketball Association. But Moses Rose was “Da Man” now and he let everyone within earshot know it by singing that one verse song of his (I won’t repeat it again here).

As far as I and my friends were concerned Rose could have his fame on the football field, we had ours in the ping pong room. We spent morning, noon and night playing table tennis. There was me, Trinidad (Trini), Trinidad #2, Jerome and “Plastic” and a few other names I can’t recall. It is my opinion that there has been someone on campus named Trinidad every year since the early 1960s. Our problem is that we had two Trinis, one was a great table tennis player and the other was a wannabe of the other Trini. Yes, you’ve already guessed it, they were both from the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Trini #1 was small and frail. He was what we called a professional student, when I matriculated in 1971, he had already been in school for six years and from the amount of time he spent in the Student Union building, he could look forward to staying another six or more. I don’t think the other Trini was actually a student, he could be seen working in an office on the upper floors in the building but always found time to make his way down to the basement where the ping pong room was located.

“Plastic” was the only female in the group, well, there was Gwendolyn, but she wasn’t as dedicated as the rest of us, she actually spent some of her time going to class. “Plastic” was a good player though, she had game. The reason we called her Plastic is because of the shiny make-up she always wore, it made her look like a mannequin in a store window. She wore a big afro, red lipstick, had rosy cheeks and was beautiful to boot. Plastic had a really nice personality, I think she was the one who sold me down the river. When I arrived on campus I told everyone I was from Washington, DC. I didn’t see the point in trying to explain that I was from a small little town way out in the country 50 miles away and besides, no one would ever know. Well, it didn’t take long for someone to ask what part of DC I was from, “Southeast”, of course. “Where in Southeast? What street do you live on? I know all about DC, did you go to Spingarn or Ballou?”. Well, that was all that it took, I was sunk. I said I went to Spingarn. “Spingarn? Spingarn? Spingarn is in northeast, Ballou is in southeast. Yeah, you’re from DC, Ha!” From that moment on we were best buddies, she called me “D.C.” and I called her “Plastic”.

The inspiration for our endeavor came one day while we were taking an outdoor break to watch little Trini show off his skills at soccer. Then, from off in the distance you could hear the faint sound approaching…
“Big – Bad – Moses – Rose!”
“Da-da-da…”

Great! Here comes Moses Rose, “That’s right, that’s right, step aside, make way for Moses Rose. Moses Rose is passing through”. For some reason he always referred to himself in the third person. I have to admit, the guy was impressive, built like a brick you-know-what, but in all fairness he was pretty entertaining, you had to like the guy for his self confidence, if nothing else.

It was then that someone spoke up, “Why doesn’t the school have a soccer team? We could all be on the soccer team” (I’d never played soccer in my life). Trini agreed and someone suggested that we just start one up, how hard could it be to start up a soccer team and schedule games, right? That’s how it all got started. The next thing you know we had not only organized a soccer team, we’d put together a chess team (the chess room was directly across the hall from the ping pong room). The student union was built with lots and lots of glass. The walls to each of the rooms in the basement were made of glass, as were the walls to the entrance of the building and the entrance doors. I can’t tell you how many newbies walked right into the walls and doors face first, trying to get into the building. You could just stand at the entrance to the basement and pick out the kids who were going to run into the glass “SMACK!”
So, by the end of that week, we had organized enough people to have a soccer team, a table tennis team, a chess team and a spades (card game) team. The next step was to make some phone calls to other schools to see if they would be interested in organizing representatives from their campuses to compete against us and other schools, yet to be determined.

Before Long we had schedules for traveling from one to school to another. We were the first to travel and first on our list was a visit to Virginia State in Petersburg. I remember that outing like it was yesterday. We all jumped in cars and drove to V.S.U. There must have been at least 10 to 12 of us. It was too cold for soccer so it was just the ping pong, chess and spade teams. We all basically rotated from one team to another so even if it were warm enough for soccer, the head count would have probably been the same. We arrived late Friday night with games scheduled for Saturday morning. The first thing we did was go to the student center and hang out. This was a learning trip if ever there was one. When we arrived at the center, we were met with music and dancing, there was a party going on. In the center of the room was what appeared to be a very intoxicated girl dancing on one of the tables. All she needed was a pole and you would have thought we were in a strip club. I asked someone from the school who the girl was, he said, “Oh, that’s not a girl, she’s a transvestite, a cross dresser”. I’d never seen anyone like that before and it made me realize that I needed to start paying closer attention to who I was talking to. After the party we went to a predetermined dorm and crashed for the night. Oddly enough, directly across the hall was the cross dresser’s dorm room. The noise from across the hall kept us up all night. There were guys in and out of that room all night, all going there for the sole purpose of having their hair braided. In with a fro, 30 minutes later, out wearing braids. We barely got any sleep at all.

The noise must not have affected us because the next day we won three out of four ping pong games, two of four of the chess matches and swept the spades games. It was a very successful outing. Three weeks later V.U. visited our school, but I have only a minute recollection of it. Our next stop was to be Virginia Union. There was a really bad snow storm that weekend so I decided not to go. There were two or three cars battling the elements to get there on that fateful day. I wasn’t able to make that trip, so I only have what I was told to go by. But apparently, the car that Jerome (Alias) and Plastic were in was trying to make it through the blinding snow when it skidded off the road and slid into a guard rail. Neither of them were hurt, so they got out of the car to inspect the damages. They circled the vehicle to see if it was drivable, but as they stood behind it looking it over, another car turned the corner and did exactly what they had done. That car plowed into the rear of their vehicle pinning them between the two bumpers. I was told that Plastic died at the hospital, Jerome had to have one of his legs amputated. I lost a good friend that day, two good friends. I never expected that Jerome would return to school, but he did. I would occasionally see him on crutches making his way to class, but he never came back to the ping pong room.

The school landed in a hot water because of the accident and the fact that it happened while students were participating in unsanctioned athletic events. Ultimately, back then at least, the school was deemed responsible for the students while they were in their care. Needless to say, that no more tournaments took place. I have found no formal record that this incident, or the events leading up to it, ever took place. Of course, I am using aliases to protect the privacy of those who suffered during this tragic time in the school’s history. But the least I can do is memorialize what I know about what took place in writing, here and now.

A Herculean Task

The Amphibious Assault Ship U.S.S. Guam LPH-9
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I will share a somewhat embarrassing Navy story with you. I was a third class petty officer serving aboard the USS Guam LPH-9 as an air traffic controller. We were in the southern Mediterranean Sea after just leaving Alexandria, Egypt headed for Naples, Italy, I believe. We were all sitting around relaxing when Captain T. A. Stanley called down to CATCC (Carrier Air Traffic Control Center) for a volunteer to hop aboard a helicopter and fly into Athens, Greece on a special mission for him. I knew that Athens was not a scheduled port of call on this tour so I quickly volunteered to go. If I went I would be the only enlisted man who would touch foot on Grecian soil. I couldn’t miss an opportunity like this. And what was this special mission which held such great importance to the captain, you ask? It was to purchase a copy of the New York Times and deliver it to the bridge! I jumped at what I thought would be an easy task and one that could earn some brownie points. I immediately made my way to the flight deck. The helo pilot only had one instruction for me as I boarded, he warned me that we were flying into a highly secure air base (I think he actually said “top secret”, but I’m not sure now), but he definitely said these words verbatim “Don’t take any photos while you’re on the tarmac”. He told me I had one hour to look around and then get back to the helo with the newspaper. I nodded, took a seat and strapped in.

Athens, Greece with Mount Olympus appearing in the background
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I’d never taken off from a ship before and as we headed for Athens I was awed by how small the ship seemed out in the vastness of the Mediterranean Sea, practically nothing. I surveyed 360 degrees and could see nothing but water and that tiny little ship in the middle of it all. Still in awe as we landed, I stepped onto the tarmac, looked up, saw what I assumed to be Mount Olympus rising into the sky before me, and without thinking I couldn’t resist… I lifted my camera and snapped a photo of “the home of the gods”. Almost immediately sirens began to sound, lights began flashing, then a little yellow jeep with red lights flashing came toward me. Two military police jumped out of the jeep, hustled me into the back seat and carted me off to their headquarters. My camera was confiscated and I was detained and interrogated for exactly one hour. I was finally released after they assured themselves that I was not some type of foreign spy. I boarded the helicopter, minus a camera, film and a NEWSPAPER! Once we landed back aboard ship, I dejectedly returned to CATCC expecting the captain to personally come down and skin me alive. Instead of balling me out, he called down and personally thanked me for a job well done, he had his paper and was very please that I had accomplished my mission. I was perplexed, but never admitted that I’d actually failed my mission and didn’t get the paper he’d wanted. A little while later the pilot came down and explained that he’d seen me being picked up by airport security and knew I wouldn’t be doing any newspaper shopping any time soon, so he picked one up for me and delivered it to Captain Stanley in my name. So, if you are out there sir, thank you very much for your good deed and the great story my kids have heard a thousand times by now.

All non-cited text on this site is the property of:
Growing Up Colored
Copyright ©1997-2014
All rights reserved
Revised: Sept. 2013

The State Bank of Remington – Up Close and Personal

Photo/Courtesy of panoramio.com
Remington, Virginia, my home town.
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After I graduated high school, my father decided that it was time for me to have a car of my own. Prior to this I only mentioned wanting to own a car once, but I’d mentioned wanting to learn to drive several times. Buddy Hayes, a friend and neighbor, took on the task of teaching me to drive from the time I was about 16. “Blinky”, as he is known throughout Remington, had me sit behind the wheel of his car with a wide open field in front of me and told me what to do. It wasn’t long before I was kicking up dust – up and down the dirt road we lived on, shifting that straight stick like an old pro (thanks Buddy).

When it came time to purchase a car Dad took me to Alexandria Pike and turned into Arrington Motors. At the time I couldn’t have predicted that my mother, Earlene, would become very good friends with Mrs. Arrington and be a caregiver to her mother for many years to come. Unfortunately at the time, Mr. Arrington’s prices were well beyond my budget, so we decided to try a place on the by-pass on East Shirley Highway just up and across from where the “new” Warrenton Fire Station sits today. I found a black 1962 Ford Falcon for $250.00. I paid cash for it and basically parked it in the driveway because I had been accepted to attend Norfolk State College.

I went off to college and when I returned home for Christmas break, I wrecked my car simply because I was out of practice driving. The next year I decided it was time for another vehicle and I walked to Remington Bank after picking out a 1965 Ford Mustang for $500. When I got to the bank I went up to a teller told her that I was there for a car loan. She directed me to Mr. William Embrey’s desk, the president of the bank.
To this day I have never met the president of any other bank I was a member of.
I sat down and he said
“So you’re here for a car loan” 

“Yes Sir”

“Your Ellsworth Brown’s boy, right?”

“Yes sir”

“He’s a good man, Let’s see… fine, we can give you a loan”

He reached over, shook my hand and said,
“Wait here just a moment”

He left and came back a few minutes later with a bank book with the loan amount hand written in it and a check for five hundred dollars
“Bring it by and let me take a look at it”

That was it, I didn’t sign a single document, never saw a loan agreement. I bought the car and drove it by the bank to let Mr. Embrey have a look at it. I stopped by to the bank every month with my loan book to make the payments. I watched the loan amount slowly dwindle away over the course of 3 years.

Photo/Courtesy of alamedarides.com
1962 Ford Falcon, my first car.
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That’s right, I received a car loan from the president of the bank, William Embrey, with only a firm handshake as a binding contract.

After owning the Mustang for a few years, and a few more cars, I allowed someone to convince me that it wasn’t proper for a respectable young lady to be seen riding in a custom van with drapes and a full size bed in the back and that I should get a new car more befitting a lady of her station. Well, guess what, I went out and bought a really nice car.

I bought a car I couldn’t afford.
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Yes, I bought a really nice car that I could not possibly afford to own. It didn’t take very long for me to discover this fact and after only 2 monthly payments to the Bealeton Branch of the bank, I called the loan officer who had given me the loan (we’ll call him Mr. Hand) and explained to him that I needed to return the car to the bank because I couldn’t make the monthly payments. Mr. Hand didn’t see it that way of course, “You’re making the payments on time every month so there’s really nothing I can do, my hands are tied”.
This back and forth went on for a few months, me calling and asking him to come get the car and him saying he couldn’t as long as I was making the payments. I actually begged him to come get that car. I explained that although I was paying for the car, I was behind on my rent and one or the other would have to be dropped and since I had to live somewhere, the car had to go, but he didn’t budge.

That’s when I decided to simply stop paying for the car, I just stopped. Two months of non payments went by and sure enough, Mr. Hand began calling on a regular basis, threatening to repossess the car if I did not immediately begin making payments again. He screamed into the phone, “I’m coming over there personally and tow your car if you don’t start making payments!”. My immediate reaction was, “Isn’t that what I’ve been asking you to do for the past six months, I’ve been begging you to come get this car”

“You start making payments or you’ll never get another car loan from this bank again!”, he was extremely upset (but there was nothing I could do, my hands were tied).
A week later, I removed the tires, put them inside the car and the trunk, along with the keys. I put the car up on blocks in the apartment parking lot, called Mr. Hand and told him where he could pick it up, packed and moved to Richmond with my sister and her husband, at their behest.
After 3 months of living in Richmond, I grew tired of the city life and left a good job, my lovely sister, her husband and the family they were starting and moved back to Fauquier County. I quickly found a new job and a new apartment, the only thing I was lacking was a car. I needed to catch a ride to work every day and I hated relying on someone else for transportation. One day out of the blue, I received a phone call, “Hello Stanley this is Gloria Comer at the State Bank of Remington, I hear you’re in need of a car”, (Mrs. Comer, VP of the State Bank of Remington? How in the world did she hear that I needed a car), she went on, “Why don’t you come by and let’s talk about it”.

“But Mrs. Comer, the loan officer over there, Mr. Hand, said he’d never give me another car loan”.

“Well I’m not Mr. Hand, come on by, I think we can work something out”.
I dropped everything, shot over there as fast as I could bum a ride and lo and behold, she told me “Pick out a car, bring it by to let me look at it” (YES! They still made you bring the car by so they could look it over back then) and before you knew it I owned a new car.
Back then, everybody knew everybody and more importantly, everybody knew everybody’s business. Someone had to have tipped off Mrs. Comer that I needed a car, but to this day I don’t know who that someone was. Not only did I pay off that loan, I finished paying off the loan on the car I left behind, that is, the couple hundred dollars difference between what I owed on the car and the amount they sold it for after the repo’ed it. Mrs. Comer didn’t have to do that, she went out of her way to contact me, to reach out to me when I was in need and I greatly thank her for that, and to Mr. Embrey, he gave me a car loan solely on the basis of knowing and respecting my father, Ellsworth “Doc” Brown.

As you all may know, some years later, the prominent bank president and community leader ran into some legal trouble, that is not what this story is about, this is a story about people who afforded me and others in the community opportunities that they may not have otherwise been open to if they had not been there for us. Had this happened today, his next move would be to run for public office, and by his popularity, I have no doubt that he would win.

Footnote:

I know, I hate it too, I wish I had a few controversial and highly explosive stories to tell about how terrible it was to live in this area in the 50s and 60s, but I don’t. If there were lynchings and cross burnings (and there may have been), I didn’t see them and so can’t write about them first hand, but… to be fair, it’s hard writing a “Growing Up Colored” series if you really didn’t grow up THAT colored after all. Oh, there was racism, plenty of it, but not the blatant racism and discrimination one would expect to see in a small southern town. I was turned down for a house rental just outside Remington once because of my color and the two young, white, women who bought the investment property in Remington, but lived in Arlington, never encountered that type of racism before. They called me crying to apologize after a neighbor threatened to burn down their house if they rented it to me, they were sobbing and extremely distraught, I sort of expected it. Funny thing, I’d just left the house after meeting the man, with him welcoming me to the neighborhood and shaking my hand. He stood there and watched me sign the rental agreement, all the time waiting for me to leave so he could bully the girls into submission. I left and the phone rang as soon as I got back home, letting me know they had to cancel the contract, I understood and agreed. I saw the old man in Remington several times after that but never said anything to him, he’d speak in passing, never recognizing who I was.

Growing Up Colored
Copyright ©1997-2014
All rights reserved
Revised: 8/2013

The Community Action Program: Warrenton, Virginia

Photo/Courtesy of The Daily Yonder
The War on Poverty began with President Lyndon Johnson’s visit to Tom Fletcher’s front porch in Martin County, Kentucky, in April 1964.
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I didn’t realize I grew up poor until I landed a summer job working for the Community Action Program. In order to work for the program your parents had to be below a certain income level and we qualified. CAP was a program instituted out of Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty”. The Community Action Program and the Neighborhood Youth Corp both “authorized by the Economic Opportunity Act (EOA) of 1964 and designed to keep needy students in school by offering them such incentives as a stipend, work experience, and ‘attitudinal’ training”. Both organizations were headed by Mr. Felton Worrell, who had also once held the position of choir director at William C. Taylor High school before it was converted to a middle school. You rarely hear or see the word ‘stipend’ when it is not preceded by the adjective ‘small’ as in, “he received a small stipend for his work at the research lab”, and I can guarantee you, the salary they paid us fit the definition to a tee.

I was 17 years old and this was my first real work experience. My first assignment was to (and this is how I interpreted it at the time) go to some white man’s house and do his yard work for him. I didn’t like the concept and did not apply myself at all. I had never trimmed hedges or pruned flowers or anything of that sort. The man had to practically babysit me the entire day. Yes, one day, I was not asked to return after the first day.

Soon after, I was assigned to the St. James Baptist Church as a youth coordinator (a fancy title for baby sitter), the most I remember of that job was that the “Center” (which is what we called the Community Action Program headquarters on Lee Street) sent a bus throughout southern Fauquier to pick up kids and take them to Vint Hill Farms Station to swim in their pool, everyone really looked forward to that weekly trip. The bus even picked up kids and delivered them to Vint Hill to watch fireworks on Independence Day. Vint Hill had the only public pool that black kids were allowed go to back then. The nearby Remington Swim Club was private, therefore the “White Only” facility didn’t have to worry about being forced to allow blacks to join. I remember our neighbor, Mrs. Georgia Hayes, tried unsuccessfully to sue the swim club in order to gain membership.

Vint Hill Farms Station Pool.
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Vint Hill Farms Station was another of the, apparently many, electronic surveillance stations that dotted the Fauquier County landscape. VHFS was run by the US Army and the infamous NSA, they too spied on embassy row monitoring communication of friend and foe alike, they took some heat for that back around 1989.
After holding the job at St. James for a while I was transferred to the base commissary at Vint Hill as a shelf stocker. I enjoyed this job because it gave me and all my friend’s access to the facility’s gymnasium. Yes, those were really the good old days; you could come and go, on and off a military run facility with absolutely no identification whatsoever, just wave to the guard and they’d wave you in. Don’t try it today.

At one of our weekly meetings at the Center, one of the administrators, Mrs. Fleegle, told us that we had been given a grant that would allow us all to take a four day, 3 night trip to Miami Beach, Florida. The government would pay a portion of the tab, but each of us would have to sell $400 worth of chocolate candy bars (you know the kind). If we reached the goal as a group that uncle Sam wanted us to match, we could make the trip. All of the students (or employees) were given several boxes of candy each to take home to sell in our neighborhoods, two weeks later we would meet to turn in the money and further our plans for the trip. Two weeks went by, we met and were asked “How many of you have collected your 400 dollars?” no hands went up. Of the more than 20 children, no one had been able to sell four hundred dollars worth of candy, so the bar was lowered; Did anyone raise $300? $200? $100? It was finally decided that we should sell $100 worth of candy and come back in two weeks. Two weeks later, we returned and were asked “How many of you were able to sell one hundred dollars’ worth of candy bars?” no hands went up. The prospect of going to Florida was beginning to look bleak. No problem though, a NEW plan was devised, they told us “OK, if you each can sell $40.00 worth of candy, you can go”. Two weeks later we were queried and only one hand went up, it was Gloria Woods, out of all those kids she was the only one who raised enough money to go on the trip. Finally they said, “OK, don’t try to sell anymore candy, if you can come up with the $40 on your own, get it from your parents, borrow it, whatever, you can go”. I went home saved the next 2 weeks’ pay , asked my parents’ permission and surprisingly to me was allowed to make the trip.

Still there were people, who did not raise the necessary funds, but they were allowed to go anyway, everyone who wanted to go could go whether they came up with any money or not.
For some unknown reason, the Center decided to deliver the 20 or 30 kids to Union Station and subject us to a 17 hour train ride to Florida, big mistake. Those kids tore that train to shreds. We started out relatively quiet but then we all got use to our surroundings and at some point all hell broke out. Kids were running up and down the aisles from one car to another, screaming laughing, fighting, yelling. The more the passengers complained the louder the kids got. I even got tired of the hustle and bustle of the long train ride and just wanted to sit back and enjoy the ride, but they wouldn’t have it. The conductor spent the majority of his time chasing down my friends and bringing them back to their seats, mind you, no one was under 16 or over 18, a trainload of wild animals, they were. The final straw for the conductor came when someone broke one of the reclining seats; it sat flopped back against the seat behind it. They’d been using the seats as trampolines, jumping from one to the other until, finally one caved under the pressure. The conductor gathered up all the kids, cleared out an entire car of passengers at the rear of the train, moved us into that empty car by ourselves then left and locked the door behind him. For the rest of the train ride, we were as noisy and destructive as we wanted to be and no one got any sleep at all.

Photo/Courtesy of State Archives of Florida; Florida Memory
Aztec Resort Motel – Miami Beach.
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When we arrived in Miami we checked into the now defunct Aztec Resort Motel, right on the Miami Beach ocean front at 159th street and Collins Avenue. As the adults were checking us in, a man, who had been watching us all from a distance, approached and introduced himself as “Mr. Griffin, the house detective”. Up to that point, I had only seen house detectives on old Humphrey Bogart type movies and have not seen one in person since. He told us that he would be keeping his eye on us and he was true to his word. The man never took his eyes off us for our entire stay.
One thing that I learned immediately upon checking in was that barely anyone in Miami Beach spoke English, especially the service workers; they were all Cuban, mostly all black Cuban. By then I had studied Spanish in school for a couple of years, but I was nowhere close to being able to hold a conversation with a native speaker. “No me gusta las albondigas” was about the best I could offer, I’d just have to bide my time until I was in a situation where I was eating spaghetti in order to tell someone, in Spanish, that I did not like the meatballs. That opportunity never came, so I spent much of my time in the motel trying, in vain, to interact with the maids when I needed something.

I left home with 20 dollars in my pocket and unfortunately for me, just across and down the street from our motel was a little pinball arcade and it only took an hour after our arrival for me to walk out of that establishment penniless and distraught over what I would do with no money for the next 3 days. I was at the arcade with Jimmy James and on the way back to the motel, as we were crossing the street, a red convertible pulled up to the corner where we were and stopped. Two beautiful white girls were in the car and one asked what we were doing for the next couple of hours. We told them we had nothing planned and out of the blue one asked, “How would you two like to come with us and make an x-rated movie?”. I was in complete shock, taken aback, embarrassed and a few other adjectives. I was just barely able to stammer out some excuse as to why we couldn’t go with them. Here we were barely 17 years old walking along the Miami Beach strip and getting hit on by two beautiful girls but who were obviously old enough to drive. Looking back, I’m pretty sure we two country bumpkins would have been driven to some far away alley where their boyfriends were waiting and been beaten and robbed. I’m both disappointed and relieved that I never found out what was actually in store for us had we accepted their offer.

Photo/Courtesy of The Brown Collection
That’s me enjoying the pool at the Aztec Resort Motel on Miami Beach.
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When we returned to the motel, Mrs. Fleegle (not her real name) was gathering everyone together to take us to a local movie house. We’d returned just in time. The theater was within walking distance so we headed out of the building and down the street. Can you imagine the sight we made, 20 plus young boisterous black kids, laughing and joking our way down Miami Beach? People were stopping on the street and in their cars to watch the parade we made. Someone from across the street yelled out, “What’d you do – win a contest?” We sort of ignored them, a few kids gave responses that can’t be written here, but we made it to the movie theater as a single unit without causing too much of a scene. The theater was like none I’d ever seen before or since, there was a red carpet and velvet ropes stretching from the street to the huge double doors and to top that off, there was a doorman (white, not Cuban) dressed English garb holding the door for us. He sort of turned his nose up at us as we entered, but he held the door for us to come in anyway. The interior of the building had a huge chandelier and valuable looking paintings hanging on the walls and for the life of me I can’t remember what movie we saw that day.

By the time we returned to the motel it was getting dark, we had eaten already so all that was left to do was hit the beach and the pool. After we came in and went to bed, the house detective visited us several times throughout the night yelling at us and warning Mrs. Fleegle about the disturbances we were causing, threatening to kick us off the premises if they continued. The next day we took a bus tour of the Orange Bowl and President Nixon’s “southern white house” on Key Biscayne, we also toured a factory of some sort but it eludes me what type it was.
That night a storm came up out at sea, so we decided that it would be an excellent time to go out on the beach and wade in the dangerously high winds and waves. After almost drowning a few times as the storm grew in intensity and Gloria Woods accidentally losing her top for the third or fourth time, we came up with the brilliant idea of building a bonfire on the beach, that’s right, a bonfire on Miami Beach, directly in front of our hotel. We had it going pretty good and we’d been gathered around the fire for about 5 minutes when the house detective came running out of the hotel and onto the beach in his white suit and clutching his gray fedora against the wind.

Photo/Courtesy of Affordable Florida Vacations
“Put that fire out you backwoods country bumpkins!”.
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“What are you idiots doing? You can’t build a fire out here! You’re not in the sticks now, you’re in Miami!”, he went on yelling, “Some poor lady left her kid in the hotel room for a moment and all this smoke came pouring in through the windows. She thought the hotel was on fire and now she’s called the fire department. GET THAT FIRE OUT, you backwoods country bumpkins!!!”. We quickly complied, the fire trucks came and went, the gathered crowd was dispersed, things quieted down and we went in and went to bed. The next day things ran a lot smoother, no one got in to trouble.

On our return trip back, we flew Delta Airlines from Miami to D.C. The strange thing is that it only took an hour and a half to make that flight to Washington National. I recently flew round trip from Reagan to Miami and neither leg took less than two hours and 20 minutes to make. I’ve never understood why it takes so much longer to fly the same distance now than it did over 40 years ago. It is a mystery for the ages I think. That was our trip and our contribution to the war on poverty. We had a great time and received some life molding experiences to look back on. A special thanks to LBJ’s commitment to helping the underprivileged, Uncle Sam’s undying need to spend taxpayer dollars and Mr. Worrell and his staff for caring enough to keep us safe and out of real trouble.

Growing Up Colored: Everyday Life


“Jambalaya and a crawfish pie and file’ gumbo
‘Cause tonight I’m gonna see my ma cher amio
Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-o
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou”

“Sing it again Daddy, Sing it again!” We pleaded with our father to sing some more. “Huh? You wanna hear it again?”, he asked. “Yeah, daddy, sing it one more time”, we were all yelling by then. Dad started the song from the top again…

“Good-bye Joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My Yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, gon’na have big fun on the bayou “

(Cue up the sound of children’s laughter, applause and screams of delight)
Our father didn’t sing very often, but he had a really good voice and we loved to listen to him. He liked both kinds of music Country AND Western and that’s all he listened to when we were growing up. You can be guaranteed that nine times out of ten, if he was singing in the car, we were probably sitting, parked in front of J.J. Newberry’s Department Store on East Davis Street in Culpeper waiting for our mother to finish doing her weekly clothes shopping or we were in the parking lot of Dr. Walter S. Nicklin’s office in Warrenton. We sometimes waited for 3 or 4 hours for mama to come out of the doctor’s office. Back then, there were separate waiting rooms for White and Colored.

Photo/Courtesy of The Brown Collection
Dad taking care of the kids while Mom takes the photo.
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Dr. Nicklin’s office scheduled appointments so Whites were served mainly during the day and Blacks were scheduled in the evenings, even so, if mom had a 7pm appointment, and a white person came in without an appointment, my mother would be pushed back so the white person would be next in line to go in. This was very convenient for those whites who did not like to wait their turn during the day with the other white patients; they could just waltz in any time after six in the evening and be next in line to see the doctor no matter how many people were waiting. So many times dad had his hands full trying to keep the six or seven of us under control while Momma got herself or one of us checked by the doctor. I always enjoyed Dr. Nicklin’s, I’d survey the examination room, looking at all of the old photos of him in his Army uniform and wondering where each photo had been taken. I believe Dr. Nicklin delivered all of us, except Bajean, she was born in my grandmother’s house in Remington. According to my mother, Earlene Brown, “She was almost not delivered by a doctor. Grandma Brown would not let anybody go get Ellsworth and sent to town for old Dr. Grant, who lived in the upstairs drug store building. He was very old and had to walk the 1 mile from town. He had to go to town back twice to check his elderly sister.
Barbara was a natural child birth because the bottle of ether Dr. Grant brought with him was empty. I suffered for years because he did nothing to make sure I was okay. Dr. Nicklin had a fit when he to examined me and the baby.
He said," Earlene I am sorry to tell you that you will never be able to have any more children", famous last words, I had five more.”

On Saturday’s we’d drive to Warrenton to pick-up the week’s mail orders that had arrived at the Sears and Roebuck on Main Street. That’s Fridays in Culpeper, VA and Saturdays in Warrenton. Dad would go to both the A&P and Safeway using a long list and sometimes a coupon or two, but mostly he stuck with the deals he already knew existed through years of experience. The weekly shopping routine had been honed into a science, with our parents working as a team to get it all out of the way as quickly and efficiently as possible, they were the shopping version of weekend warriors. If it had been an Olympic event, our parents would have won a gold medal.

Photo/Courtesy of photography-in-place.blogspot.com
If you asked me, Baby Jim’s sold the best hot dogs on the planet back then.
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We were avid movie goers, as I mentioned before, we were always at the drive-in theatre, but the best treat of all was getting all of the shopping out of the way and then going to “Baby Jim’s Snack Bar”, which is still in limited operation on Main Street in Culpeper. They had some of the best hot dogs known to man, whereas, “Clayton’s” on old Rte. 29 in Bealeton had some of the best Fried Chicken and potato salad this side of the Rappahannock (unfortunately, I was not well traveled back in those days and didn’t have much experience outside of the Rappahannock region). We didn’t get to go to Clayton’s very often, but we gobbled down that chicken like it was our last meal on earth. We always made time to go the Glen’s Fair Price Store on East Davis Street, where we would spend our weekly twenty-five cent allowance. I could spend the entire day in that store just looking at all the “stuff”, they had lots and lot’s of stuff.

Photo/Courtesy of The Brown Collection
Glen’s store in Harrisionburg is still in operation.
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I still can’t figure out how we escaped major injury while we were growing up. There were so many pitfalls that we walked in to and then out of most times unscathed. I remember the time the whole gang of boys decided to go squirrel hunting. It was early on a Saturday morning and the guys had just arrived from ‘over on the Ridge’ to get started. There was Frank, Buster, Herman, Donald, Almond, Raymond, me and several others. We spent the better part of the day traipsing around through the woods searching for game, we didn’t find a thing. The last time we went hunting, we had a skinned squirrel hanging from our clothes line waiting to be cooked. The older kids never went hunting without making sure what they bagged was eaten, this was not just for sport. We all had our Daisy B B guns, some were the pump action, some had the Red Rider Carbine. I just know that the pump guns were far more powerful than the carbines. As I stated earlier, we had been out in the woods all day long and we were getting fidgety, we were looking for something, anything to shoot at. Finally someone said, “Let’s play war!” “Yeah, let’s play” We all agreed that war was the thing to do. Now I had heard about these legendary war games and still saw the after effects of one really huge battle. Sonny Davis still had a crater directly between his eyes after one such episode, when he got shot between the eyes they decided it was time to quit. And Donnie showed me the damage done to his finger when he was shot while aiming his gun, that shot in the hand probably saved his eyeball.

Photo/Courtesy of The Brown Collection
The sooner we can get the shoveling done, the sooner we can go squirrel hunting.
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But this time I was in on the action. Buster chose one team and Raymond chose the other, being Raymond’s tag-along brother meant that he was obligated to pick me for his team. The teams were divided up and final rules and regulations were put in place. “Shoot for the legs or the coat, no shooting above the chest”, we all had our Navy pea coats on and I knew from prior experience that a BB meant absolutely nothing hitting you with your pea coat on. Raymond and I used to take turns, turning our backs to one another and shooting each other in the back with the guns, we never felt a thing. So I knew that as long as I got shot anywhere on my coat, I was safe. “If you see a squirrel, the game is over, we go after the squirrel”, Buster made sure everyone knew what we were really out there to do.

Our groups split up and we went off to a distance where we couldn’t see their team and could barely hear one another. We were defense, Buster’s team was offense. We hid and set up a perimeter to protect our fort. Softly we could hear them trudging toward us in the leaves. I lay on the ground still as a field mouse waiting to see the whites of their eyes. Suddenly out of the darkness a form came into view, it was Buster, he was bent forward keeping low so as not to be easily spotted. But I had my sights set directly on Buster’s chest. Suddenly, he noticed me on the ground, he turned, picked up his rifle and aimed it directly at my head and just as we were both about to fire our weapons, someone yelled out “SQUIRREL!!!” – “SQUIRREL! STOP THE WAR! Almond has a squirrel up in that tree”, we all jumped up and ran to where the yelling was coming from. I breathed a big sigh of relief and stood back and watched as everyone lifted their guns and aimed at the poor little creature, they all shot, they all missed. The squirrel must have decided that it was time to high tail it out of there and took off to the ground, that’s when it became a foot race, man against squirrel. As Almond chased the animal he must have gotten a brainstorm because he took his Daisy Red Rider Carbine and picked it up by the stock and started swinging it trying to clobber the squirrel. As the squirrel zigzagged through the woods Almond stayed right on his tail. The squirrel jumped onto a young elm tree and clung to it about eye level high and that’s when Almond reared back and swung as hard as he could at the thing. But by then the little squirrel was gone and all that remained was the elm tree. Almond wrapped the entire barrel of the gun around that tree. The instant he did it, he realized that maybe this hadn’t been such a good idea, he immediately fell to his knees and started crying. And try as hard as they might, they couldn’t put the Red Rider back together again. Almond cried all the way home that day. But we were very lucky, maybe even blessed, that no one was hurt in that entire melee. We went home, tired, worn out and ready to face another day and with a really good story to tell.

Looking back, I have come to appreciate how well kept we were growing up. We received 3 square meals a day and always a snack immediately after school (usually peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and milk). Sometimes we had a delicious ‘Nuco’ sandwich. Nuco was what we knew as fake butter, because for many years we got our butter from Mr. Bowen up the road, but then daddy started buying margarine, but we didn’t call it that, we called it by its brand name. There was bologna and cheese or Spam sandwiches for lunch, there was no cafeteria, so we had to brown bag it to school every day. Almost every Sunday we’d have Steak and eggs and fried potatoes piled with onions for breakfast or toast and chipped beef gravy, that heavy gravy that sticks to your ribs. Sunday dinner was normally fried chicken and potato salad, cabbage, spinach, kale or some other green vegetable from the garden. But the best meal of all wasn’t really a meal at all. On Saturday nights we were sometimes treated to a sneak preview of Sunday dinner with fried chicken and potato salad, this would be the only time we did not sit at the kitchen or dinner table to eat. On Saturday nights we could bring our plates into the living room and watch Jackie Gleason or Gunsmoke while we ate our late supper.
Yeah, there was a lot of love in our family. We stood in line to kiss dad goodbye each morning as he went off to work and mom kissed us as we left for school each day. We ran out of the house to greet our father when he came home from work and we were in church every Sunday morning rain or shine. Growing up Colored for those of us blessed enough to have been born in Remington, VA wasn’t as tough as some have made it out to be, it was a great place to grow up.

Growing Up Colored
Copyright ©1997-2014
All rights reserved

Doomsday at the Park

Doomsday at the Park
Photo/Courtesy of the National Park Service
Bumper cars at Glen Echo Amusement Park.
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“Let me hold your ride tickets”, the boy stood directly in front of me blocking my way. “Huh, what…?” I didn’t understand what he meant. He said it again, slowly this time, “Let-me-hold-your-tickets, gim’me your tickets”, he held out his hand, waiting as if he knew I had no choice. I clutched my ride tickets in my hand, “I ain’t giving you my tickets”, he was a lot smaller than me, so I wasn’t afraid of him, even though he looked a couple of years older. As many fights as I’d gotten into with Donnie Carter, I knew he would be no problem for me to handle. “You saying no to my man?”, he gestured as though there were someone standing there with him. I looked around but didn’t see anybody. “What are you talking about?”, I asked puzzled. He spread his arms open wide like a bird about to take flight, then he repeated, “You saying NO to my man?!” He said it sternly, but not loudly, we were standing in the middle of the park. Yes, we were standing right smack dab in the middle of Glen Echo Amusement Park, in Glen Echo, MD, just outside of Washington, D.C. I was there with my church, Providence Baptist and as far as I was concerned, Glen Echo was “The Greatest Place On Earth” bar none. The church sponsored a Sunday School trip each year. At first we’d take cars to nearby beaches or parks, then as more money was raised through bake sales and the like, we were able to hire tour buses to travel further away from home. I had just gotten off the “Jungleland” it’s referred to as a “Dark Ride”. It’s one of those old ride-through dimly lit, haunted attractions based on a mixture of painted African savages, jungle beasts, ghosts and ghouls. Jungleland was my favorite ride, second only to “The Whip” and this guy was taking away from my ability to savor the moment. I wanted to enjoy that ‘I just got off a great ride’ feeling. “I don’t see no man”, I said as I looked around, he’d have to more than this if he wanted these hard-earned tickets. Just then, from around the corner of the building came this gigantic hulk of a boy, he must have been at least fifteen years old, six feet tall, two hundred pounds. I was only ten years old at the time. The big guy just stood back and never said a word. He just kept tapping his hip, kept tapping his hip, drawing my attention to it. That’s when I noticed that strapped to his hip was a hawk-billed knife. All the tickets I had were in my hand, I looked back at the smaller boy as he held out his hand knowing I had run out of options. I gave all my ride tickets to him and watched as they turned away laughing, heading for the JungleLand.

We’ll get back to those guys in a minute, now jump forward two years. My class was taking the annual seventh grade field trip and we had decided to visit Washington, D.C. and Glen Echo. While in Washington, we went into the Washington Monument, visited the Smithsonian Institute and also got in a few hours at Glen Echo. That day, when I arrived at the park the first thing I wanted to do was ride the “Whip”. I had been coming to the park since I was nine years old with the church and had been on this ride so many times by then that I had to show off for my classmates who were visiting the park for the first time. I had already been on “Jungleland” with Carolyn Washington, my supposed girlfriend at the time. In between screams I sneaked in a kiss or two and I was sitting on top of the world. So when it was time to ride the Whip I got in a car alone, the cars could sit three people, but I got in by myself. I propped my feet up on top of the front rail and leaned back in a relaxed pose. The safety bar was supposed to latch (the sign read, “Keep the Safety Bar Latched at all Times”, I pulled it to me but I didn’t lock it. The ride operator didn’t seem to mind so away we went. I was as cool as cool could be, known to my classmates as “The Walking-Talking Dictionary”, “Mr. Dictionary” and then by the infamous name, “Pete-The-Pimp”. I remember when they nick-named me that. We, being country bumpkins that we were, decided that if we were going to take a trip into Washington, DC, we needed nicknames so we’d appear cool to the city folk once we got there, so we all picked names for ourselves. I was given the name “Pete-The Pimp”. When I went home that day and told my mother what my new nickname was, she kept prodding me as to how I acquired such a title, then she asked me, “Do you know what a pimp is?”. I said “sure, it’s a guy who walks cool and talks cool and walks around like he he’s bad”. My mother said “That’s not what pimp means, maybe you’d better find another nickname”. I didn’t understand her concern so I kept the name, at least for the duration of our bus trip.

So there I was sitting on the whip, laid back relaxed, ready to show everyone how nonchalant I was about the whole thing. Everyone else was holding on for dear life, but I was way too smooth for that, I leaned back with my arms stretched out, as though I were relaxing on a park bench. As the cars began picking up speed and began being whipped around the grease caked, stainless steel floor, (the grease kept the wheels cool and made the whipping action even more jerky and rough), the ride operator began pointing down to the bottom of my car each time I made a revolution past him, trying to get my attention. He would cup his hands and yell something to me. I sat up erect trying to hear better each time… “Your wheel’s coming off!”… What? I panicked, “What?”, as I passed again… “Your wheel’s coming off!”, he was pointing frantically to the car’s wheels. I threw back the safety bar and a split second before the next whip of the car came I jumped off the ride and slide the entire length of the steel floor with my arms outstretched like a high wire walker trying to keep my balance as I slid through the thick grease. I rammed full force up against the guard rail, gathered my bearings and turned around to see the ride operator bent over laughing at how gullible I was… “You idiot, if the wheel was coming off, I would have stopped the ride!”. He laughed even harder. Unaware of how close I’d come to being injured or killed, I limped off the ride, still in shock and found some grass to clean off my greasy shoes. I felt a lot less cool after that incident. But that happened in the seventh grade; now let’s back up to the fifth grade and the problem with having had my tickets stolen right of my hands.

Photo/Courtesy National Park Service
Glen Echo Park Main Gate.
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I found my mother and didn’t bother telling her what had just happened to me. She asked how I could have used up all my tickets so quickly, but forked over more money without waiting for an answer. I bought more tickets, jumped on the whip and was coming off the ride when the two boys approached me again. They blocked my way. “Let me hold your tickets”, oh no, not again, I thought. I looked first at the little guy then over at his big body guard, I handed over my tickets without saying a word. By now, you’d have thought I would be walking around without the tickets visible to the world, but no, I wasn’t that smart, I had them out for all to see. I decided that this had to stop, so I ran to the park entrance and found two security guards sitting at the gate, one was munching on a banana, the other looked like he was sleeping. “Hey, two boys just stole my tickets!” they just sat there and looked at me, “Two boys a big one and a small one just stole all my tickets”. The guard who was eating the banana was holding onto the gate with one hand and looked up and asked, “Do you see them now?” He waved his hand out across the park and I turned and sure enough, you could just about see the entire park from where we were standing. “No Sir, I don’t see them”, I answered. “Well if you see them again, come and get us and we’ll kick’em out of the park”. All of a sudden I felt lost and alone. Since we were at the park with the church group, I started looking around for one of the older boys. I saw Frank Banks walking toward the Whip. I ran up to him and told him about my being robbed twice today. He confidently said, “Give me your tickets and stick with me, they won’t bother you no more.” All of a sudden I felt great, as though a heavy weight had been lifted off me. Frankie would take care of everything.

We’d been hanging together for a good fifteen minutes, when we decided to ride Jungleland together. We rode the ride, we had some laughs, we got off the ride and just like clockwork those guys were in front of me at the exit again. It was as though they were watching my every move. The big guy stood about ten or fifteen feet back from the little dude while he stuck out his hand, “Your tickets, lem’me hold ’em”. I quickly said “I ain’t got no tickets”, with a knowing smirk on my face and thinking to myself, man are you in for a big surprise. He said, “Where they at?” He knew I had tickets, I always had tickets. “My Man’s got’em!” I said with pride, “I got a man now”. I had a man backing me up now, just like he did. I pointed to Frank, who was standing right beside me. The little guy turned to Frankie without missing a beat and held out his hand, “Let me hold your tickets”, he looked right up at him never changing his expression.

“Naw, you ain’t getting my tickets”, (My hero, good old Frank). Frank stood right up to him. And again, “You saying no to my man?” You had to give him credit, this guy had his script down pat, and he was sticking to it. Frank looked around and said, “Yeah, I’m saying no to your man… I don’t see no man, so yeah, I’m saying no to him”, Frank knew the scoop and I had prepped him for what to expect, but he hadn’t gotten a look at the little guy’s man yet because, according to plan, he stayed in the background until just the right moment, then appeared in all his bulkiness to get the full effect. “So you saying no to my man, here’s MY man right here” and he pointed over to the big guy. Frank got his first look at the humongous giant of a boy, looked over at me and without uttering a word, struck out running across the park as fast as he could. In what seemed to be cat-like reflexes, the big guy caught up with him, moved in front of him and blocked his path. He grabbed Frank by the scruff of his shirt and escorted him back to the Jungleland exit ramp where we had been standing all that time. The little fellow snapped his fingers and gestured for Frank to hand over his tickets. Frank reached into his pocket and dejectedly handed him my tickets AND his. I hung my head down in disgust, Frank walked off in the opposite direction never saying another word, I didn’t see him again in the park that day. I didn’t ride anymore rides after that, I’d learned my lesson. I spent the remainder of the day trying to track down Buster to extract my revenge on these guys. I knew that if anyone could handle these guys Buster was the guy for the job. I never did locate him that day, the day I got robbed three times at Glen Echo Amusement Park, a day that will live in infamy.

PostScript:


Blacks weren’t always welcomed at the park. There were marches and protests in 1960 which led to the integration of the park in 1961. I would be remiss if I did not mention all the struggles that took place which allowed me and my friends and family the opportunity to enjoy Glen Echo. As I recall, even though the Promo from WPGC mentions the pool, the pool was closed down once Blacks were allowed in the park, just to avoid having blacks and whites swim together. At least whenever I was there, the pool was chained shut. When Marshall Hall Amusement Park integrated, they actually cemented over the swimming pool.

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