The Gathering Storm

A Favorite of the Heads, Howard Johnson's

The days were growing longer that May of 1954. Ansel Head and his sister were in the back seat of their father’s Super 88 Oldsmobile on the way to join Simple Simon at Howard Johnson’s on the Atlanta Highway; Head’s older brother was somewhere else. The home of 28 flavors was a favorite place for dinner on Thursdays, the maid’s day-off. Sometimes the Head’s went downtown to Joy Young’s where the parents could have cocktails, but the two kids liked Howard Johnson’s better which meant their parents ate in peace even if there was no Scotch or Gin.

The family always got the same thing: Clam roll for the father and grilled hot dogs on toasted buns with brown mustard for the rest. Then it was on to the main course: mocha-chip ice cream for Head, a chocolate sundae for his mother, chocolate ice cream with marshmallow sauce for his sister, and a cup of coffee for Mr. Head – he was maintaining his diet but for safety reasons always tested every one else’s ice cream.

Unrestrained by un-invented seat belts and car seats, the kids were doing their thing which was irritating already irritated parents who were trying to listen to the news on the radio. The announcer was going on about the Supreme Court decision that made white schools enroll Black kids. The two white kids in the back seat were busy taunting each other; but they snapped smartly to attention at their father’s angry, loud voice.

“You idiots have made a big mistake; it’s gonna be one Hell of a mess!”

Chief Justice Earl Warren

Sensing her children’s alarm, the mother said, “It’s OK. Your father’s not yelling at you. He’s mad because bad people are orderin’ us to put colored children in white schools. Outside agitators are just stirring up things, making trouble when they ought to leave well enough alone.  Everybody knows coloreds can’t keep up with whites; they need to stay in their place. It will be the ruin of our schools.”

After mulling over her thoughts for a few moments, she continued, “God created the two races so each one would be good at what they do. This mingling in our schools will lead people to thinking its alright for whites and coloreds to marry and have mixed babies. It’s against God’s plan and that will be the ruin of America.”

This puzzled Head and his sister. They knew Mary who cooked and cleaned up after them, Mini who did the ironing every Monday, Joe who came two or three times a week to cut the grass, Gladys who made breakfast and lunch at Ross’s house, Mitchell, Vina, and George at their grandmother’s, Alfred at the warehouse, the maid across the street who sent messages to the mailman by raising red flags on the boxes. “Surly these weren’t the people who couldn’t keep up and whose babies would be the ruin of America?” Head thought to himself.

The rest of the evening passed as usual. The Head’s joined other white families at the Howard Johnson’s on the Atlanta Highway where cheerful Black ladies brought favorite foods cooked by smiling Black men.

Ansel Head and his sister were generally unaware of anything, certainly unaware that anything had changed or that new school syllabuses were in the making. Safely secluded by polite society and Black maids, they would remain unaware for some time. Even if that hadn’t been the case, it wouldn’t have made any difference for Head. Until the young boy’s undeveloped synopses began connecting memory dots in the still multiplying neurons floating about in his brain, no education was sticking. So it was just as well that he remained ignorant of what this new education entailed for both himself and everybody he would ever know.

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