Riding In The Front

Why is it that I can remember something from 50 years ago like it happened this morning, yet I can’t remember why I walked into the kitchen 10 minutes ago?

Fifty years is a long time to bring back memories, good or bad. And it’s funny that we refer to anything that reaches the 50th milestone as “golden.”

In August 1963, I was 8 and three-quarters years old. When you are that age, you always add the months to your age to make you appear older. I was never just 8, but 8 and a half, etc.

Anyway, I was old enough to know good from evil but still young enough to be shielded from the really bad things going on outside of my small world. I saw enough newspapers and tv news headlines to know that there were wars happening around the world in far-off places I knew nothing about.

I also knew that our own country was experiencing a growing rumbling among its people, both white and black. Although I went to a school where there were no blacks, only one Mexican kid who could not speak English, we were learning about civil rights.

We didn’t have to open a book to get a look at what civil rights meant. We could watch it from our living room as we sat in front of the big console tv with rabbit ears.

There we could see what was happening in the South and in big cities across the country where people of color were walking side-by-side with white people who wanted equal rights for all. Newspaper headlines screamed “race riots” and “freedom riders” and “negroes.”

I was old enough to know that “the Klan” still burned crosses in yards in Vineyard Hills where many minorities lived and a black city fireman’s home was set afire while he working the overnight shift.

Then on a particular August night when my father said we weren’t allowed outside to play after dark, we just didn’t understand. “Stay on the porch,” was all he said, but he said it in a way that we knew better than to stray from his words or the house.

Later we learned that my parents had heard there were going to be busloads of blacks and their supporters traveling that night to Washington, D.C. for the March on Washington. Word on the street was that the bus caravan just might come through Wheeling and, well, there could be trouble. There was none.

Fear does funny things to people. It makes us see color where there should be none. I’m proud to be of a generation that has worked to rid our country of prejudices against men and women, whether it is about race, religion, sex or war. We burned bras, not crosses. We held sit-ins, not riots.

We’ve come a long way. Some of us rode buses and others rode the tide of change. Look back, remember and then keep moving forward on the front of the bus.

Heather Ziegler can be reached at