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  • On a bright sunny Sunday afternoon, I walked up to a customer, and asked “May I help you?”

    Although I was only about ten or eleven years old, maybe twelve, I was a waitress in our family seafood restaurant, and had been waiting on customers for years – actually, since I started counting. The customer had a woman with him, and he haltingly asked me if he had the right place. He said that this was his first time, he was a first time customer from Richmond who had been referred by friends. He said that he was confused in that there were lots of blacks, and white, customers in the shop and he didn’t know whether he should be in another place that served whites. I told him that we served customers black and white and that both could eat in, or take their food out. He said to give him a moment.

    I thought about the fact that I had just left 14th and Main Street where I was selling deviled crabs from a basket to customers who drove by. That corner in West Point, VA had the red light and was in front of the Exxon station where you could see the “white-only” restaurants and the sections of white housing, and then on the other side is the corner, heading toward 15th Street, you could see where blacks lived and there were some black businesses. The issue of black or white never entered the picture as people purchased the crabs.

    Now here I was in Brays Seafood, in our restaurant, with a customer asking if he could buy. After a few moments, he saw people were perfectly happy doing what they were doing. I told him that he could eat inside or outside under the apple tree. And, that we could provide him with newspapers to cover the tables for hard shell crabs. So he ordered.
    That ended the question of whether we were segregated or not.

    My grandfather, my mother, our family operated our business selling to anyone. It was ingrained in me, no matter the activities that I was engaged in. It was a very similar philosophy.
    It wasn’t always easy, with segregation being the rule in the town and in the community.

    That fall, my brother and I worked with the school children to make signs, and to protest the closing of our school because of segregation. Later I helped to de-segregate the schools in Baltimore. And led marches and protests in college.

    All of my life, I believed that people should not pay for segregation. As the customer learned, there was no sense sacrificing good crabs for ideas about separating people based on race.
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