Flashback of Walking While Black

From: “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson (p. 335)

FLASHBACK of this scenario (above): Twenty or so years after this incident happened to Ida Mae in Chicago, I’m in (nearby) Milwaukee, WI riding the bus, which I didn’t do that often (I had a car early on). Somehow, I missed my stop (don’t remember where I was going) and got off the bus to walk back to where I could catch a connecting bus on the right route.

It’s summer and I’m dressed real cute, but I’m lost in my own mental reverie when subconsciously I began, not so much noticing, but FEELING that people, white people, are coming out of their houses to stare at me as I make my way down the street. It was like someone had a telephone tree, or some secret signal that a Black person was walking in the neighborhood. I got more afraid the further down the block I walked while trying to find a bus stop or phone booth, but now I’m walking with my head up and ears alert because I’m scared shitless and don’t even know where I am; no phone booth in sight and the street looked miles long, but I’m trying my damnedest to look brave and fearless [I know I must have failed miserably].

Suddenly, a car pulls alongside of me and a Black man leans over, rolls down the window, and said, “you look lost, wanna ride?” Now I’m thinking I’m in a really bad situation and if I disappeared no one would know it was simply me getting off the bus in the wrong neighborhood.

I quicken my pace, but he keeps up with me and he says something like, “I know you don’t live around here. You don’t have to be afraid of me. Here… (he holds his wallet towards the window) you can see who I am and where I live. I’m not going to hurt you. I’ll take you wherever you want to go.”

I slow down, trying to keep from crying [I’m in my teens] and finally relent and get into the car because I’m seeing too many white folks, some holding rakes standing in their yards [perhaps they were gardening?] and I make a choice to trust this Black man and got into the car.

He said he would take me either to a bus stop or to my home, wherever I wanted to go, but he wanted to make sure I was safe. He asked my name, I only gave him my first name, and he took me back to a neighborhood where I knew my surroundings. I hugged the door handle [did that years earlier in my bio-father’s car—another story, another time] the whole I was in his car. By the time I got out of the car I was so stiff with fright that my bones were locked in place and you could have snapped me like a twig just by slapping me on the back.

I don’t remember his name at all, but when I got over my fright, I was thankful that he got me out of that scary place (that really wasn’t that far from where I lived at that time). I never told my mother because I was embarrassed to say that I got lost in the city.