1961: The Year of Black and White and Red All Over

Darla Milholm, guest writer


            Dorthy clinched her fists with rage. Her eyes glares through the round black frame of her spectacles looking up at the sign above the drinking fountain.


            She read it again; this time the words spit out of her mouth with animosity. Dorthy proceeded to drink from the fountain that was “off limits” to her and others alike.

            Gasp! Thud. Dorthy, now shoved to the ground, frantically felt around the cold cement floor for her glasses that were so forcefully knocked off her head. Dorthy didn’t have to see the assailant to know who shoved her.

            Johnny Bakersfield is his name. A sixteen-year-old boy with flaming red hair and a gap between his two front teeth. He stood right at five-feet-six-inches tall, which was only two inches taller than Dorthy, with a round belly and freckles all over. His favorite hobby seemed to be to torment Dorthy along with the other six black students brave enough to attend the predominantly  white school of  Woodward Youth in Atlanta, Georgia.

            “Can’t you read? You ought to be able to with those big round glasses of yours, Dorky Davis,” mocked Johnny. “This ain’t no place for Negroes.”

            Dorthy scrambled to her feet dusting off her bright red dress ready to take a swing at Johnny. She felt someone’s arms wrap around her from behind, holding her in a death grip. It was Raymond.

            Raymond snatched Johnny up by his suspenders almost lifting his body entirely off the cement floor.

            “Get outta here, Johnny. We ain’t lookin’ for no trouble.”

            Raymond Cook. A seventeen-year-old boy that towered at six-feet-three inches tall with short blonde hair who adored fifteen-year-old Dorthy despite their differences. The two friends shared the same passion for equal rights in the year of 1961.

            “Raymond, I don’t know how to thank—”

            “Now, how many times am I gonna have to come to your rescue while you purposefully put yourself in the line of danger? When you gonna learn? Come on, I’m takin’ you home.”

            Raymond walked Dorthy home every day after school. He always ranted on about how it was not safe for her to walk the thirteen blocks alone in times like these. Then again, with the Jim Crow laws in action and  so much discrimination between Blacks and Whites, both Raymond and Dorthy knew that it was not much safer walking together.

            “Nona, I’m home,” Dorthy shouted to her grandmother in the other room. She walked in to find her grandmother sitting in her rocking chair watching the Dick Van Dyke Show at 2:30 PM as usual. Dorthy gave her a kiss on the cheek and sat down on the floor in front of her. Her grandmother flipped through the channels and landed on a news segment about President Kennedy’s Inauguration on January 20.

            “It’s March 6, and the news reporters are still stuck on this subject?” Nona laughed.

            Dorthy didn’t mind; she loved hearing about the President and especially his wife, Jackie. When the newspapers came out a few days after the Inauguration, the headlines raved about the First Lady and how she was named the “Queen of Fashion” only a few months prior. She set a good example for young girls throughout the United States and was known for being “youthful and fashionable with elegant simplicity” (Jones). Dorthy loved fashion and all things girly—mostly the color red. Red was so bright and powerful and made her feel important whenever she wore it. Not a day went by without her wearing something with the color red on it.

            Dorthy’s grandmother switched the channels again. Kennedy himself was on the air! He issued the order 10925 which created equal employment opportunity commission for both Blacks and Whites (Turbulent Years: The 60s).

            “This is extraordinary, Dorthy! Now your father that is working in Alabama can come here to stay for good! He can find a job here and spend more time with you. I know he misses your mother dearly, as do I.”

            Dorthy never knew her mother; she passed away shortly after giving birth. Dorthy always wanted to know her mother and what she was like. Her grandmother told Dorthy that in her mother’s youth, they acted much alike. Compassionate and ambitious, but also stubborn, daring, and with a temper mad as fire.

            Click. The channel changed once more. This time something even more intriguing caught Dorthy’s undivided attention. The news reporter talked about how Whites and Blacks started to gather together to take a stand against racism in the United States. Blacks and Whites from all over the country were preparing a bus to ride from Washington, D.C. on May 4, all the way to New Orleans scheduled to arrive on May 17. Other rides would follow from all over the United States. One was leaving right from Atlanta soon after the first ride! People were calling them the “Freedom Riders.” Dorthy was frantic with excitement.

            “Nona! Do you know what this means? I can finally do what I have always wanted to do with my life. I can help get equal rights for African Americans! I’ll ride the bus. I have to tell Raymond to come with me. He will be overjoyed with this news!”

            What Dorthy didn’t realize was just how dangerous all of this was. Just because a group of Whites and Blacks decided to come together did not mean that the nation as a whole would respond with friendliness.

            “Now hold on Dorthy, you’re only fifteen years old, and your father sent you here for me took look out for you, and I ain’t lettin’ you get yourself into any unnecessary trouble.”

            “But Raymond and I—”

            “No means no, Dorthy. I ain’t lettin’ anything bad happen to you.”

            Dorthy rose to her feet and stormed out the door. She was going to see Raymond, and she had to do whatever it took to get on that bus. She arrived where Raymond lived, and to her surprise he was watching the news segment about the Freedom Riders as well.

            “Raymond, we’ve got to go. This is our chance to do somethin’ great! To do somethin’ we both believe is right.”

            “Dorthy, you ain’t goin’. That’s nonsense. I’m gonna go but you ain’t, you’re just a girl.”

            Dorthy knew that Raymond had a point. She really was only fifteen years old, and it was risky to do something such as ride a bus full of Blacks and Whites. People at her own school such as Johnny Bakersfield called her names and bullied her every day—just for being Black, being different. Dorthy reconsidered her choice to ride the bus and decided against going despite her want to make a change in this world.

*          *          *

            It was the beginning of June, and the first Freedom Ride had already arrived in New Orleans. Just like Dorthy’s grandmother and Raymond predicted, the riots echoed throughout the entire country. The bus from Atlanta was scheduled to leave in an hour and was scheduled to arrive in Montgomery, Alabama.

            Raymond and Dorthy arrived at the bus station. There she stood in her red dress ready to send him off on his journey. However, Dorthy could not just let him go by himself.

            “I have to go. I’m comin’ with you.”

            “I know that I gotta go, but you ain’t goin’. I’ve heard of riots and beatings and other cruel things that went on during the first ride. I can’t have you in that kinda trouble.”

            Discouraged, Dorthy waved to him goodbye and saw him in the window of his seat among the other Black and White people. The bus door was still open. Dorthy’s mind was racing. Could she still get on? Would it be too dangerous? She had to go. And now.

            Dorthy raced up the bus steps and found Raymond.

            “Dorthy! Get out of here. There’s enough of us already.”

            “Too late, the doors are closed and we are startin’ to roll.”

            The bus was filled with people from all over the country, all ready to make a statement about racism.

*          *          *

            The bus came to a screeching halt at the Greyhound Bus Station in Montgomery, Alabama.

            Boom! Hammers broke the bus windows and fire-drenched sticks were hurled into the bus. Smoke infiltrated the bus forcing the Freedom Riders to scramble to safety. But some couldn’t get out—including Raymond and Dorthy who could not breathe. White men and boys surrounded the bus.


            “Curse the Negroes and all who help them!”

            “Set it on fire!”

            Voices chanted and people began being ripped out of the bus and beaten. Dorthy and Raymond made their way out of the bus only to find themselves in the same situation. A grown man grabbed Dorthy and hit her across the face with his left hand. Raymond immediately lunged at the man and punched him right in the nose. Bloodied, the man screamed in pain and fell to his knees. It was chaos. The bus was entirely in flames and people were screaming— running everywhere in utter confusion and fear.

            “Raymond!” Dorthy whaled hysterically as he was hit in the head with a shovel by a boy no older than 19. Dorthy would never forget the image of Raymond on the ground bleeding profusely from his head and face.

            The riots subsided. The bus up in flames and people crying, lying everywhere bloody and beaten. Dorthy sat down on the side of the road holding Raymond’s head in her arms.

            “Help! Help!” Dorthy screamed at the top of her lungs.

            Help was not coming. Dorthy watched Raymond, her protector and friend, take his last breath. Dorthy sobbed as she surveyed the scene through the rim of her glasses. The color red had never seemed so loathsome.

Works Cited

Jones, Barbara. “Jackie Kennedy-Her White House Dresses.” TheEnchantedManor.com. July 28,    2015. WordPress. March 28, 2016.

“Turbulent Years: The 60s.” Our American Century. Print.



“Freedom Rides.” history.com. 2017. Web. March 28, 2017.

Mack, Dwayne. “Freedom Rides (1961).” BlackPast.org. 2007. Web. March 28, 2017.

“The Freedom Rides.” core-online.org. 2014. Web. March 28, 2017.