“Francine Anderson grew up in rural Virginia during the 1950s. It was the Jim Crow South and “Whites Only” signs punctuated the windows of many businesses. Francine came to StoryCorps to talk about one night when she became aware of what those signs meant for her family.
“We were traveling with my father in a car late at night. And there’s a road that was long and dark. And my father did what no black man at the time was supposed to do, is he allowed his car to run out of gas.
He ended up pushing the car, and the only place he could get to was a white truck stop with “White Only” signs up. And he went up to the door and he just knocked at it. And a guy came up, he said, ’What are you doing Negro, get away from here. Can’t you read?’ And my dad, he took his hat and held it in his hand trying to make himself kind of small, ‘cause he was kind of a tall man. And he said to the guy, um, ’I see your sign sir. I’m sorry, I’m not trying to disturb you or your business. I’ve just got my young kids in the car. Can I just buy a couple of gallons of gas?’ And the guy said, ’I don’t deal with your kind.’ And he stepped back and he slammed the door.
And I saw my dad turn and walk back to the car. And I knew that my dad was afraid. And he got in the car and I can remember asking him questions: ’Why can’t we go? Why won’t he give us any gas?’ And he wasn’t answering. It occurred to me as a little kid, we’re in real trouble.
And then the door to the place opened and another man came out. And, uh, my dad stiffened up and this guy got to the passenger window and said, ’I don’t know what’s wrong with that guy. I’m going to go get you some gas, ok?’ I remember my dad was real grateful and saying, ’Let me give you these few dollars.’ And the guy would say, ’No, no, it’s okay.’
And I guess I felt ashamed at that moment for my dad, you know. Not because he’d done anything wrong but because I felt like he had been made smaller in my eyes as a child.
But now when I talk to people about that story, if I talk to whites about that story, they focus on the man and how kind he was. And he was kind. But at the same time when I talk to blacks about that story they’re more focused on the fact that it wasn’t illegal for him to deny us gas. That was the law of the land. And had my dad been defiant, that’s a risk was that you could be killed speaking up for yourself. So it’s the first time that I realized that there was real danger there. I was five years old.”
You just read the transcripts of a story told by Francine Anderson who told her story for NPR’s Story Corps
You can listen to the audio here: https://storycorps.org/embed/86988/
I’m feeling a lot of hate.. and ache.
It feels like it belongs and doesn’t belong in my body.
I feel it moving within me, graceful, fluid, like a dancer underwater–it twists, and turns, and poses–pressing and extending outward.
It’s a particularly keen kind of hate.
Like the deep tilts of love, it takes my breath from me.
As I listen to this story my imagination unfolds the scene.
I see a father, stranded on a gravel road in a back wood. He and his family are out of gas. His children are in the back seat. Their eyes are bright with questioning. Like most children, they are expectant that their father will amend the situation. In that moment, they are unaware of their keen vulnerability. I see this father walk to a nearby sundry shop that sells gas and milk. He needs to buy a little gas to get his family home. On the outside of the store a wooden sign is slung from an open window and says,
The man from inside the store not only denies the father the opportunity to buy the gas, but he shoos the father away like a dog, in vulgar spats.
It’s the kind of hate that aches for the man and his family. It aches for the miles he’s walked and the muscles he’s worked to push the silenced car. It aches for the sweat on his face and his humanity that is rendered inhuman, daily, in the eyes of others. It aches for his loss of control. There are over 31 million seconds in year. And if you think of this one particular moment, and the millions like it that occurred in the 31 million seconds of every year of our country, well–it begins to tear at the fabric of our imagination… and at our nation’s soul.
It aches to lash out at the kind of humans who sling signs that say,
It raises in plumes–this body of hate like a dancer underwater, now, stretching and posing, now tangled in silk.
My eyes burn.
I don’t know what to do with this ache.