LIVING HISTORY

LIVING HISTORY

From Chicken Soup for the African American Soul

Living History

I made up my mind not to move.

Rosa Parks

Working at the Greensboro Health Care Center was rewarding. Especially knowing David.

David came to the nursing home after I had been there but a short time. Possessed of a quiet countenance and mild demeanor, David worked as a custodian. He was color-blind. I don’t mean literally, but rather David didn’t see black or white when he looked at people. He saw what he called “gray.” Observing his daily contact both with the elderly residents and the staff of the home, I discovered David treated all with dignity and respect.

He was a nature lover and often took his lunch outside, where I would find him reading Thoreau. I would frequently “brown-bag” as an excuse to join him and listen to his wisdom on the beauty of God’s gifts to be found in nature. Our friendship grew, yet remained casual (work-related), so I was quite surprised when one day in late January 1983, David asked me to join him for breakfast on February 1 at the downtown Woolworth’s lunch counter. The date and occasion of our breakfast didn’t register in my mind as significant. That would change forever.

You can imagine my shock when I walked into the Woolworth’s on February 1 to find the lunch counter packed and reporters with cameramen from all the national television networks focusing on David and three other African American gentlemen.

What in the world . . . ? I asked myself. David caught my eye, smiled and motioned me through the throng of onlookers and the media to take a stool beside him.

“David,” I whispered. “What is all this about?”

“Gary, I wanted you to join me for an anniversary breakfast.”

“Anniversary? Whose anniversary?” I asked dumbly.

“Today is the twenty-third anniversary of the Woolworth sit-ins.”

“You mean . . . you?”

David just shyly smiled and nodded. I quickly learned that “David,” the same man who would take the time out of his busy day to read to an elderly nursing home resident or spend his lunch hour watching the birds and flowers, was David Richmond, one of the four students from A&T University in Greensboro, North Carolina, who took a seat at the once “whites only” lunch counter at Woolworth’s and thus began the nationwide movement known as “sit-ins” to desegregate restaurants. I was in the presence of living history.

It was cold on February 1, 1960. The icy winds sweeping down North Elm Street in downtown Greensboro were second only to the icy reception that David Richmond and his three fellow students received at the Woolworth’s. Taking stools at the counter, they endured the dagger stares from the secretaries, bankers, clerks and lawyers having lunch.

“Fear?” David remembered. “Sure we were afraid. We were four scared college kids challenging the status quo. Separate but equal was being defied. Jim Crow, nearly one hundred years after our emancipation, was on his deathbed.

“We were four very frightened young men, but our quest for recognition as equals allowed me and my fellow students to overcome that fear. We were only four, but we were not alone. The spirit of our fathers—their bondage, their blood, their tears and sweat from which this republic was built, their sacrifices made, both at home and on the battlefields overseas, to keep this nation free—their courage was in us.”

It’s true, there were only four, but on February 2 there would be ten; then fifty. Across this great land the numbers grew daily to merge into one voice, one message, one song: equality.

David Richmond passed away in 1991. His friendship, guidance and belief in a “gray society” will forever remain a part of my heart, mind and soul. His quiet wisdom, thoughtful perspective, rare insight and deep understanding of the human condition is something I shall always miss.

Gary K. Farlow

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