His name was Sam. It was the early 70s, and the federal government had demanded that the schools in Mississippi integrate. Oak Grove was a small rural school in Lamar County in south Mississippi, small enough that the elementary, junior high and high school were all on the same campus. Under the federal mandate, the “black” school was closed and the students were divided between three schools in Lamar County. In the high school, we had six females and one male that were bused in to attend Oak Grove. Tension was very high; this was a new experience for all of us. I cannot even begin to image the fear and anxiety of those seven students. The first weeks of school it was like everyone was walking on eggs, nothing in our education had prepared us. Most of the white students had never even conversed with someone of another race, so we were at a loss.
Within the first 6 weeks of school, one of the new female students and one of the older male students got into a fight. No, not an argument, this male student actually struck the female. Now, I’m sorry, I don’t care what a female says to a male, physical violence is not to be tolerated. Both students were expelled and the black students threatened a “walk-out.” Parents pulled their kids out of school for the week. There was talk of canceling the homecoming activities scheduled the next week at the school. After much debate, cooler heads prevailed.
Homecoming week at school was filled with the usual excitement and activity. Girls worried about whether this boy or that would ask them to the homecoming dance, which was held in the gym after the football game. Boys apprehensively approached girls, praying they would not be rejected. Still, the racial tension was present, though not as prevalent. The homecoming court had been elected. The maids and homecoming queen selected, and their escorts chosen. I never knew who chose the escorts, but the escorts at that time were always football players, and Sam was a football player. He was a freshman. So he was selected to escort the freshman maid. Nothing was said, for Sam was a very quiet, well-respected young man. And he was a football player, which in some high schools is the equivalent of being a “god.”
After the football team lost the game (we always lost) students crowded around the entrance of the gym awaiting the dance. Girls in their finery, boys in their suits. I had a date, though for the life of me, I can’t remember who he was. The six new female students all brought dates. Sam went alone. The new students gathered on one side of the gym, in one corner, all but ignored by the rest of the student population. A live band had been hired to play at the dance. I silently watch the group in the corner, occasionally several couples would venture onto the gym floor, dancing in a corner close to their safe haven near their friends. Sam stood there, smiling and watching everyone else dance.
I have always loved to dance. My heart sank watching Sam stand there, alone while everyone else was having such a good time, dancing, laughing. I excused myself from my date. Shaking, I walked what seemed like a mile across that gym floor, to the secluded corner where Sam stood. I had become friends with several of the girls and we spoke and exchanged greetings and compliments as I approached the group. Turning, I spoke, “Sam, dance with me.” Sam smiled and replied “Girl, you don’t know what you’re asking. They’ll crucify your reputation.” I smiled, “I never cared much for what people thought, especially ignorant people. And just think of the story you’ll have to tell your grandchildren" I continued to persuade, he finally agreed.
We walked onto the dance floor, Sam stopping in the corner where the new students had been dancing. I turned, grabbed his hand and led him to the middle of the gym – in the center of all the white students. We began to dance to the fast beat of the music. Slowly, the dance floor emptied. Sam and I were alone on the dance floor. I glance around and Sarah and Shirley, two of the new female students grabbed their dates and ventured onto the floor. Not quite in the center where Sam and I were, but their presence on the floor was noted. The song ended, I looked at Sam and we both understood we would stay there until the other students returned to the dance floor. One by one, couples begrudgingly began to return. By the end of the second song, it was as if nothing had happened. Sam returned me back to my date and went back to his secluded corner.
The other girls in his group took turns dancing with him after that, but no other white girl approached him, and Sam was too smart to attempt to ask one to dance. I had to find a ride home from the dance that night. My date was furious, not because I had danced with another guy, but because I had danced with a black guy. He never asked me out again, which was good, because he would have gotten a piece of my mind and a refusal if he had.
Sam became my first male friend. We spent a lot of time talking about the state of the world and the things that should be changed. We also talked about interracial dating. Sam and I were never interested in each other in a romantic sense, and we both agreed, the citizens of state of Mississippi weren’t ready for that yet. Little did I know that I would later be married to someone who was “Hispanic” or that I would come to love an eastern Indian to the point that I would have gladly given my life for him. And yes, the world is still reluctant to accept what they consider interracial relationships.
My reputation, well, Sam’s nickname was “Sunshine” – and the rest of the year I was dubbed “Sunshine’s girl.” I would just laugh. See, I was a rebel, and though I didn’t realize it at the time, my reputation as being rebellious and standing up for a cause was enhanced. The racial tension that had surrounded the first months of school dissipated. The following three years progressed without any more racial incidents.
Sam and I lost touch after high school. But I sometimes wonder, one day will he tell his grandchildren about this insane white woman who was crazy enough back then to ask a black guy to dance during a time when that was forbidden.