1955: Standing Up For What You Believe In

Collin Schepers, guest writer

“John, what are you doing? Sit down!” Mary whispered to me.

“No! I will not support this, it’s not right!” I leaped off the bus, and toward the police officer.

~ ~ ~

Growing up in the city was an experience that’s unforgettable. In the daytime, people rushed throughout the streets as if they had their own mission on which nobody could stop them. At nighttime, car horns and police sirens became inescapable sounds. New York City: a place that never goes to sleep and where silence refuses to exist.

One cold night, I had just finished walking up my apartment buildings’ twelve flights of stairs. I gazed out into the dark abyss, attempting so desperately to make out just a few stars through the thick, smoggy air.

“If God created the stars, why can’t we see them?” I thought to myself.

~ ~ ~

On my fourth birthday, my mom took me to get my favorite ice cream from Eddie’s Sweet Shop, the same place where my dad used to always take me. As we sat down with our ice cream, I saw her, a little girl about my age, also eating ice cream. I walked up to her.

“Hi, my name’s Jonathan O’Connel, what’s your name?” I waited. She seemed to be mute. After a moment of silence I asked “what kinda ice cream you got?” She stared blankly again at me for a moment, then finally responded,

“Uhhh, well uhh, well it’s orange sherbet, and my name’s Mary” she said, seeming content with her ice cream choice. “What you got?” I was surprised, not only that she asked me a question, but also because of her accent. I had heard men talk in southern accents before, but never a little girl.

“Well I got rocky road,” I responded. She stared at me with what seemed like disgust, not seeming impressed.

“Too many nuts, I don’t like nuts!” she blurted.

“Where are you from?” I asked trying to change the subject. My favorite topping was nuts, and I did not want to get in an argument about how nuts are the best topping.

“Montgomery, Alabama!” she spoke up proudly.

“Alabama? How’d you end up all the way up hear in New York?”

“Ma Daddy got a job up hear in town. He’s a in the stocks business.”

I didn’t know much about the stocks business, but I did hear some adults at church say it was changing the way businesses would succeed.

“John,” My Mom called. “It’s time to go!”

“Well I got to go, goodbye Mary!” I said, walking out the door.

“Goodbye Jonathan!” she said, waving at me.

Once we got down the sidewalk a little bit my mom looked at me. “Who was that?”

“Oh, that’s Mary. She doesn’t like nuts, but I think she’s the love of my life.”

“Oh John, you just met her” mom said laughing.

~ ~ ~

One year later, I stepped foot into Lincoln Elementary, the main school in the city of New York. I walked in and looked over toward the teacher’s desk, and I saw Mary, dressed in a bright yellow dress. She was talking with some girls. I went over to say hi, but before I got the chance to open my mouth, she noticed me from across the room.

“Jonathan, what are you doing here?” All my friends behind me started to laugh. Although my real name is Jonathan, everyone calls me John.

“Well I do have to go to school ya know.”

“Hehehe,” all the girls behind Mary started giggling, I looked over at my reflection in the mirror, and I was blushing.

~ ~ ~

I talked to Mary throughout the next couple weeks. Mary seemed to be proud, almost entitled. She was always talking about her Daddy and how America was the best country in the whole world.

~ ~ ~

About a month later I walked into school and sat down at my desk, when I saw something I had never seen before. Across the room I saw a Black boy standing by the teacher’s desk. Some kids looked over and whispered to each other, pointing toward the boy. The teacher came up front to introduce him to the class.

“Everyone, I would like you to meet William. He will be joining us for the rest of the year.”

During lunch I went up to William. “Hi!” I said enthusiastically. “My name’s John.” He didn’t answer for a while, I thought “maybe he didn’t hear me.””My names John, what’s your name?” After a brief moment of silence he responded.


“Hi Will, nice to meet you!” I stuck out my hand to shake his. He hesitated for a moment, than stuck out his hand. I shook his hand, and I knew we were going to be friends.

The next day I sat by Mary during lunch.

“I saw you talking to that boy yesterday.”

“Well yeah I was just introducing myself.”

“My daddy said I shouldn’t even talk to those people. He said all Negros are bad.”

I didn’t understand how one color of people could all be bad. When I got home that day, I asked my mom the same question.

“Hey Mom, are all Black people bad?”

“Of course not! Why would you think that?”

“Well, Mary said her dad told her that.”

“No John, every color and race have good and bad people. Just remember that even when people are bad or mean, you can’t be mean back at them. Remember what Mr. King said,

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” (Quotes).

~ ~ ~

One day I was looking through newspapers, trying to find a job to support my mother and I. A job opening in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Maine, but the job I saw pop up over and over was to be a farm hand in Alabama. Although I didn’t have much farming experience, I was physically fit, and I was a fast learner.

I’m twenty-three years old, I’m a responsible young adult, and I know I can do this. Staying wasn’t an option at this point. Food shortages were killing the homeless, and jobs were scarce. The complete opposite was true for the state of Alabama; job opportunities seemed endless, and the city seemed to run on agricultural. I talked it over with my mom. She sounded like she was for me venturing out of New York City. A place she had been wanting to escape from, but because of sexism in other states, she was afraid of not being able to find a job.

So off I went riding bus after bus, finally arriving in Alabama. Things seemed so different from New York, it was not only a lot quieter, but the buildings were quite a bit shorter. Actual trees grew places other than just in the parks, and people seemed to move slower. White people greeted each other on sidewalks, and in stores. They talked about current events, such as the MLB World Series. It was featuring the New York Yankees, a team I was very familiar with.

Wow! Everyone seems so nice here. This seems like a place I would want to live. The whole situation reminded me of my mom, and how she would tell me about how Mr. King said “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools” (Working).

A few weeks after meeting with the owner of the farm and getting a Job as an errand boy, I was sent into town, where I was to check a feed order coming in from the recently opened ALFA. As I entered the bus I heard someone shout my name.


I looked over to see who it was, and to my surprise I realized that it was Mary from back in New York. I took the seat next to her.

“What are you doing down here in Alabama, Mary?”

“Well ya see, I’m visitin’ ma grandparents for a week”

“What are you doing here? Before I had time to respond I heard a commotion from behind me.

“Get out of my seat, Nigger!” Someone screamed from behind me. I was appalled. I’t was the year 1955, and although racism was still rampant in the south, I was accustomed with the north’s less harsh outlook on Blacks. I looked toward the woman that they were shouting to. She was wearing a NAACP pin, something I was not completely familiar with. I was trying to get a better glance at the pin, when all of a sudden police officers walked into the door of the bus and took the woman outside. I knew what I had to do.


Works Cited

King, Jr. , Martin Luther. Working Together Quotes. www.values.com. Web. 28 Mar. 2017.

King, Jr. , Martin Luther. Quotes on Darkness. www.values.com. Web. 28 Mar. 2017.


Theoharis, Jeanne. “How history got the Rosa Parks story wrong.”The Washington Post.1 Dec.                 2015, www.washingtonpost.com. Web. 28 Mar. 2017.

Theoharis, Jeanne. The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks. Beacon Press, 2015.

106th Congress Public Law 26. The U.S. Government Printing Office. 4 May 1919,                                  www.gpo.gov. Web. 28 Mar. 2017.