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"A Mason-Dixon Memory"
Friday, July 2, 1999



The following story comes from the CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL: HOME
DELIVERY inspirational email service from Mark Victor Hansen and Jack
Canfield, co-authors of the New York Times best-selling CHICKEN SOUP FOR
THE SOUL series.

To subscribe:
http://www.soupserver.com/ind.html

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A MASON-DIXON MEMORY
By Clifton Davis

Dondre Green glanced uneasily at the civic leaders and sports figures
filling the hotel ballroom in Cleveland. They had come from across the
nation to attend a fund-raiser for the National Minority College Golf
Scholarship Foundation. I was the banquet's featured entertainer.
Dondre, an 18-year- old high school senior from Monroe, Louisiana, was
the evening's honored guest.

"Nervous?" I asked the handsome young man in his starched white shirt
and rented tuxedo.

"A little," he whispered, grinning.

One month earlier, Dondre had been just one more black student attending
a predominately white school. Although most of his friends and
classmates were white, Dondre's race was never an issue. Then, on April
17, l991, Dondre's black skin provoked an incident that made nationwide
news.

"Ladies and gentlemen," the emcee said, "our special guest, Dondre
Green."

As the audience stood applauding, Dondre walked to the microphone and
began his story. "I love golf," he said quietly. "For the past two
years, I've been a member of the St. Frederick High School golf team.
And though I was the only black member, I've always felt at home playing
at mostly white country clubs across Louisiana."

The audience leaned forward; even the waiters and busboys stopped to
listen. As I listened, a memory buried in my heart since childhood
fought its way to life.

"Our team had driven from Monroe," Dondre continued. "When we arrived at
the Caldwell Parish Country Club in Columbia, we walked to the putting
green."

Dondre and his teammates were too absorbed to notice the conversation
between a man and St. Frederick athletic director James Murphy. After
disappearing into the clubhouse, Murphy returned to his players.

"I want to see the seniors," he said. "On the double!" His face seemed
strained as he gathered the four students, including Dondre.

"I don't know how to tell you this," he said, "but the Caldwell Parish
Country Club is reserved for whites only." Murphy paused and looked at
Dondre. His teammates glanced at each other in disbelief.

"I want you seniors to decide what our response should be," Murphy
continued. "If we leave, we forfeit this tournament. If we stay, Dondre
can't play."

As I listened, my own childhood memory from 32 years ago broke free.

In 1959, I was 13 years old, a poor black kid living with my mother and
stepfather in a small black ghetto on Long Island, New York. My mother
worked nights in a hospital, and my stepfather drove a coal truck.
Needless to say, our standard of living was somewhat short of the
American dream.

Nevertheless, when my eighth-grade teacher announced a graduation trip
to Washington, D.C., it never crossed my mind that I would be left
behind. Besides a complete tour of the nation's capital, we would visit
Glen Echo Amusement Park in Maryland. In my imagination, Glen Echo was
Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm and Magic Mountain rolled into one.

My heart beating wildly, I raced home to deliver the mimeographed letter
describing the journey. But when my mother saw how much the trip cost,
she just shook her head. We couldn't afford it.

After feeling sad for 10 seconds, I decided to try to fund the trip
myself. For the next eight weeks, I sold candy bars door-to-door,
delivered newspapers and mowed lawns, Three days before the deadline,
I'd made just barely enough. I was going!

The day of the trip, trembling with excitement, I climbed onto the
train. I was the only nonwhite in our section.

Our hotel was not far from the White House. My roommate was Frank
Miller, the son of a businessman. Leaning together out of our window and
dropping water balloons on tourists quickly cemented our new friendship.

Every morning, almost a hundred of us loaded noisily onto our bus for
another adventure. We sang our school fight song dozens of times, en
route to Arlington National Cemetery and even on an afternoon cruise
down the Potomac River.

We visited the Lincoln Memorial twice, once in daylight, the second time
at dusk. My classmates and I fell silent as we walked in the shadows of
those 36 marble columns, one for every state in the Union that Lincoln
labored to preserve. I stood next to Frank at the base of the 19-foot
seated statue. Spotlights made the white Georgian marble glow. Together,
we read those famous words from Lincoln's speech at Gettysburg
remembering the most bloody battle in the War between the States: "...we
here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that
this nation, under God shall have a new birth of freedom..."

As Frank motioned me into place to take my picture, I took one last look
at Lincoln's face. He seemed alive and so terribly sad.

The next morning, I understood a little better why he wasn't smiling.
"Clifton," a chaperone said, "could I see you for a moment?"

The other guys at my table, especially Frank, turned pale. We had been
joking about the previous night's direct water-balloon hit on a fat lady
and her poodle. It was a stupid, dangerous act, but luckily nobody got
hurt. We were celebrating our escape from punishment when the chaperone
asked to see me.

"Clifton," she began, "do you know about the Mason- Dixon line?"

"No," I said, wondering what this had to do with drenching fat ladies.

"Before the Civil War," she explained, "the Mason-Dixon line was
originally the boundary between Maryland and Pennsylvania - the dividing
line between the slave and free states." Having escaped one disaster, I
could feel another brewing. I noticed that her eyes were damp and her
hands were shaking.

"Today," she continued, "the Mason-Dixon line is a kind of invisible
border between the North and the South. When you cross that invisible
line out of Washington, D.C., into Maryland, things change."

There was an ominous drift to this conversation, but I wasn't following
it. Why did she look and sound so nervous? "Glen Echo Amusement Park is
in Maryland," she said at last, "and the management doesn't allow
Negroes inside." She stared at me in silence.

I was still grinning and nodding when the meaning finally sank in.

"You mean I can't go to the park," I stuttered, "because I'm a Negro?"

She nodded slowly. "I'm sorry, Clifton," she said, taking my hand.

"You'll have to stay in the hotel tonight. Why don't you and I watch a
movie on television?"

I walked to the elevators feeling confusion, disbelief, anger and a deep
sadness. "What happened, Clifton?" Frank said when I got back to the
room. "Did the fat lady tell on us?"

Without saying a word, I walked over to my bed, lay down and cried.
Frank was stunned into silence. Junior-high boys didn't cry, at least
not in front of each other.

It wasn't just missing the class adventure that made me feel so sad.

For the first time in my life, I learned what it felt like to be a
"nigger."

Of course there was discrimination in the North, but the color of my
skin had never officially kept me out of a coffee shop, a church - or an
amusement park.

"Clifton," Frank whispered, "what is the matter?"

"They won't let me to go Glen Echo Park tonight," I sobbed.

"Because of the water balloon?" he asked.

"No, I answered, "because I'm a Negro."

"Well, that's a relief!" Frank said, and then he laughed, obviously
relieved to have escaped punishment for our caper with the balloons. "I
thought it was serious."

Wiping away the tears with my sleeve, I stared at him. "It is serious.
They don't let Negroes into the park. I can't go with you!" I shouted.
"That's pretty damn serious to me."

I was about to wipe the silly grin off Frank's face with a blow to his
jaw when I heard him say, "Then I won't go either."

For an instant we just froze. Then Frank grinned. I will never forget
that moment. Frank was just a kid. He wanted to go to that amusement
park as much as I did, but there was something even more important than
the class night out. Still, he didn't explain or expand.

The next thing I knew, the room was filled with kids listening to Frank.
"They don't allow Negroes in the park," he said, "so I'm staying with
Clifton."

"Me, too," a second boy said.

"Those jerks," a third muttered. "I'm with you, Clifton." My heart
raced. Suddenly, I was not alone. A pint- sized revolution had been
born. The "water-balloon brigade," 11 white boys from Long Island, had
made its decision: "We won't go." And as I sat on my bed in the center
of it all, I felt grateful. But, above all, I was filled with pride.

Dondre Green's story brought that childhood memory back to life. His
golfing teammates, like my childhood friends, faced an important
decision. If they stood by their friend it would cost them dearly. But
when it came time to decide, no one hesitated.

"Let's get out of here," one of them whispered.

"They just turned and walked toward the van," Dondre told us. "They
didn't debate it. And the younger players joined us without looking
back."

Dondre was astounded by the response of his friends - and the people of
Louisiana. The whole state was outraged and tried to make it right. The
Louisiana House of Representatives proclaimed a Dondre Green Day and
passed legislation permitting lawsuits for damages, attorneys' fees and
court costs against any private facility that invites a team, then bars
any member because of race.

As Dondre concluded, his eyes glistened with tears. "I love my coach and
my teammates for sticking by me," he said. "It goes to show that there
always good people who will not give in to bigotry. The kind of love
they showed me that day will conquer hatred every time."

My friends, too, had shown that kind of love. As we sat in the hotel, a
chaperone came in waving an envelope.

"Boys!" he shouted. "I've just bought 13 tickets to the Senators-Tigers
game. Anybody want to go?"

The room erupted in cheers. Not one of us had ever been to a
professional baseball game in a real baseball park.

On the way to the stadium, we grew silent as our driver paused before
the Lincoln Memorial. For one long moment, I stared through the marble
pillars at Mr. Lincoln, bathed in that warm, yellow light. There was
still no smile and no sign of hope in his sad and tired eyes.

"...We here highly resolve...that this nation, under God, shall have a
new birth of freedom..."

In his words and in his life, Lincoln made it clear, that freedom is not
free. Every time the color of a person's skin keeps him out of an
amusement park or off a country- club fairway, the war for freedom
begins again. Sometimes the battle is fought with fists and guns, but
more often the most effective weapon is a simple act of love and
courage.

Whenever I hear those words from Lincoln's speech at Gettysburg, I
remember my 11 white friends, and I feel hope once again. I like to
imagine that when we paused that night at the foot of his great
monument, Mr. Lincoln smiled at last.


From A 4th Course of Chicken Soup for the Soul
By Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Hanoch McCarty & Meladee McCarty



 

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