FINALLY," I thought, "we're almost to the last display."
I was chaperoning a group of second-graders on a field trip to the Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore. The bus ride had been noisy, and my head ached. Just keeping the rambunctious youngsters together in a group was challenging enough. But at many exhibits I also had to speed-read the display card and then translate the information into language that 7- and 8-year-olds could understand. The strain was beginning to show.
The final display was of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. -- names the children recognized. Momentarily, I had the attention of a small group of girls. They noticed the signs that said "Whites Only" and "Coloreds Only" over the drinking fountains. I told them how, not that many years ago, blacks and whites had to use not only separate drinking fountains, but separate entrances, bathrooms and schools.
The girls in the group, two black, one white and one Asian, listened intently. As I explained about segregated schools, shock and hurt clouded their upturned faces. Tears began to form in June's eyes.
"You mean if I lived then I couldn't have gone to school with Alicia?" she cried. "But she's my best friend!"
As June's words sank in, Nicole added, "That would be terrible. I couldn't go to school with Elizabeth, either."
They were obviously disturbed to think that they could not have played and worked and learned together simply because of the color of their skin. For a moment the four young friends just stood there uncertainly. Then, in a spontaneous gesture of support, they wrapped their arms around each other and stood silently locked in a circle of friendship.
The noisy bus ride and the small irritations of herding a group of second-graders on a field trip suddenly seemed unimportant.
Karen Lynn Gray writes from Baltimore.