Parts of my life have been extraordinary; other experiences have been sadly common, at least for a black American of my generation. Perhaps it’s those moments when the two collided that have defined me and will convince you to come along as I share my story.
I have been driving all night, but I’m not as tired as I should be. The excitement of seeing my wife and starting a new phase of our life keeps me going through the night on a drive from New York that was supposed to take two or three times this long. I pull onto Fremont Street, the famous “Glitter Gulch” with its neon facades promising instant riches inside, but it’s not the avenue I’m seeking.
I see a police car and stop to ask for directions to D Street and Van Buren. The officer gives me and my 1955 Oldsmobile 98 the once-over, then answers a question with a question.
“You here for that colored show at the new hotel?” he grumbles.
I am. My wife and I have traveled this country as a singer and dancer, and we’re excited to be part of an incredible show at a first-rate property – an integrated oasis called the Moulin Rouge. The officer gives me directions that lead across some railroad tracks, under a bridge and to the Westside, the section of town dedicated to the minority community. My big fancy car veers off the paved streets and onto dirt roads, threading through patches of tumble-down shacks and outhouses. Suddenly, New York City is very far away.