“So,” said Annette, “we decided to be nice to her.”
“Who?” I asked.
“The nigger coming to school,” said Annette. “The principal says we aren’t to have trouble like Little Rock.”
Lib giggled. “Then better not call her nigger.”
“Sure,” I said. “We should be nice.” I hadn’t thought about it. Besides, it was a big school; I’d probably never see her.
I was wrong. Her name was Lynn, and she was in my algebra class, sitting quietly in the back. And in my English class, quietly in front. In history, she sat right by me.
I decided to show Lynn the cafeteria. I wondered if that was “too nice,” but remembered my first lunch, alone, the year before.
There was a long cafeteria line. Everyone got quiet when we joined it. After we got our food, tables were getting full. We sat at a half-empty table with kids I didn’t know. They all got up and left, and no one would join us.
We stared at each other. Her short black hair was wavy, her skin a rich coppery brown. My brown hair was short and wavy and my tanned skin almost as brown as hers. I figured we could pass as sisters.
“If they don’t want to eat with us,” I muttered, “I’m not sure they’re my friends.”
So I stayed, and through junior and senior years, Lynn and I ate together. We had a private table; no one ever had the courage to join us.
A good thing was, my friends and a lot of other kids were polite to Lynn. The bad part was, they were polite to me too. Lib explained “When we said friendly, we didn’t mean that friendly.”
Some kids called us names and threw things, but nothing serious. No one didn’t know us. Over time Lynn and I discovered we had lots in common. Besides almost all the same classes, we had the same interests.
The best thing about those years was meeting people with the American Friends Service Committee, who taught Lynn and me about nonviolence and helped us be nice to people who called us names. They introduced us to others who didn’t think your color should determine where you went to school or what job you could have. We had fun with them, which made up for not being in many high school activities.
Sometimes I look at my school yearbooks. Sophomore year, when I worked so hard at being popular, lots of kids signed my book, saying how nice I was. Junior year only a few signed, and wrote nothing personal. My senior yearbook was different. All those kids I had wanted as friends signed it. They wrote how they admired someone standing up for her beliefs. They didn’t say they changed their minds about race relations, and I’m not sure being admired made up for being lonely and left out, but I was glad they were willing to sign.
The best was from Lynn, who wrote a whole page. She wrote how scared she was that first day, and how glad she was when I spoke to her. I was surprised; she never looked scared. But then, you can’t know everything about your best friend.