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Most folks know August 28, 1963, as the March on Washington, but for me, it has another very profound meaning. It was the beginning of my every day walk with death for nine months—the start of Public School Integration in Fayetteville, North Carolina. For ten years, I attended public school with black Americans. But for a period during my last two years, I was the only black student at Pine Forest High, a historically white public school.
Distracted by a fun-filled summer, I didn’t think much about my safety as the first day at my new school approached. But on the actual morning, just seven days shy of my sixteenth birthday, I was sure it was my last day on this earth. Terrified, I stood on Highway 210 with my sister Henrietta and our cousin, Robert King, waiting for bus 444 to pick us up. When it arrived, I stepped on first, followed by my sister and Robert, to find all of the seats taken. We thus stood for the 10-minute ride to the next stop, Spring Lake Elementary School, where Henrietta and Robert got off with other children.
I found a seat. It was a lonely ride with a lot of mumbling, and I dreamt about my funeral until we stopped at the College Lakes subdivision. A young man got on and noticed the one empty seat by me, but instead of sitting down, he stood in the aisle until we reached the school. I remember saying to myself, “Stand up, you pimple-faced rascal. I did!” which made me laugh inside. When we arrived, there were no spectators. Still, my fear increased. Quickly, I made the decision to be the last to leave the bus. After everyone departed, I turned to the bus driver and said, “I will get off and walk with you into the building.” She didn’t respond but her look conveyed that she didn’t want to be seen with me. And further, that she didn’t want me riding her bus. She eyed me through the rearview mirror and parked the bus on the front row, then we left together. My knees stiffened on the walk across the parking lot. And when we entered the building, my stomach turned. I sensed hatred—a feeling that was very new to me and that I didn’t know how to process. A young man approached and whispered “traitor,” a comment directed at the bus driver, not me. Gasping, she touched her throat and replied, “I didn’t, she wanted …” I kept walking and didn’t see her again until it was time to board the bus.
On the way to my homeroom, some students yelled angry, nasty words. I had been told not to address any outbursts or name-calling, so I kept walking, looking straight ahead as I did. Homerooms were off-limits until the first bell rang. Standing outside of the classroom, a female student approached me with her fist balled up. “How much is the naacp paying you to come here?” she asked. I didn’t answer—just looked straight into her eyes. Her hair was teased all over and very stiff. Her hair doesn’t move, I thought to myself. It doesn’t shake. She was wearing penny loafers with the penny in the little slot on top of her shoes, her skirt was a wrap-around that tied in the front, and the blouse was white with brown vertical pin stripes and a little round collar. I had not been introduced to such fashion before. [End Page 39]
Finally, the bell rang and the door to homeroom opened. As I went into the classroom of Ms. Edna Jones, no one wanted to sit next to me. Not even the ones Ms. Jones...