Long Story Short: The Trip South

Rather than let Jesse and Ruby stay in Harlem. Mrs. Baker would have her children sent down south. which is where she grew up she came to New York in the 20’s to work as a nurse in the colored hospital. That’s where she met Walter Baker her husband who is currently overseas fighting in Europe, alongside their son Walter Jr. Walter Sr. fought in the great war and didn’t have to fight again but insisted on serving his country. Mrs. Emmie Baker knew Ruby was almost 16 but at that age you just dont leave agirl unchaparoned. But when Emmie had to stay overnight at the hospital Ruby knew how to handle Jesse. He was a handful, like all tweleve year olds. Although Ruby and Jessee practically begged to stay, Emmie knew the answer was no. She would be going overseas to help in Britian with the nursing of allied soldieers, Ruby and Jesse would stay down south with their grandfather and Auntie.

They boarded the train at 5:30 am. They would have to travel all the way to Alabama on the train alone, but grandpa would be there to greet them at the station. They were already exhausted and the trip would be long. Ruby could barely keep her eyes open and Jesse wasn’t even trying to, it was like he was sleepwalking. Mamma told Jessee and Ruby that they had to look out for each other. Down south it was a completely different world. Although had its quirks and problems, it was mosly integrated. True they werent always welcome everywhere as negroes, but Jim Crow was the law down there. Being black you had to watch what you did and what you said or you get lynched. Everything was segregated.

The transition through six states would be a strenuous one. They didn’t have the best seats on the train and they might have to move to worse ones as they traveled deeper south. They might as well get used to giving up their seats to white people for Jim Crow.

Last time Ruby was in the south she was ten years old, she remembers walking in the streets, “sidewalk is for white folk”, Grandpa would say. The “colored only”, and “whites only” signs she remembered most vividly. and when going to the movies and to the little southern diners. Negroes had to use the back entrance, some of the diners didn’t serve negroes at all. The scariest thing was the way the Ku Klux Klan paraded through the streets. the way white people gathered to see them with smiles like it was the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. The fear and anger upon the face of the colored people. It took Jesse and Ruby quite a while to get used to southern life. The north has spoiled them and they had taken those spoils for granted.

Up north they could enter the front of almost every building, theaters, restaurants and stores. They could use whatever fountain they wanted and could converse freely and be friends with white people. All this was forbidden in the south. You didn’t have to stay in your “place” up in New York. It seemed like the simplest things that Jesse and Ruby did in their everyday lives up north were considered crimes in Alabama. For instance Jesse and Lee were buddies. they always hung around places, playing their games, plotting, walking down the street side by side. Although Lee is white and Jesse being black, fully aware of it. He never thought about the fact that she was a white girl.

To Jesse, Lee was just another of his friends. But down south if Jesse was to play around with Lee they way he did up north he would be lynched. Black males couldnt be seen with a white woman, talk to a white woman, let alone touch one. Ruby and Jackie were best friends, Norma Jean and Ruby were… something. They always traded barbs and had little smart remarks for each other. But get smart with a white woman in the south and you get hurt. Also in the south, you have to refer to white people as sir and ma’am or miss. Even if you are 50 and the white person is six. While the whites addres negroes as “boy” and “girl” no matter what the age.

Ruby sat silently on the train looking out of the window. Jesse was asleep leaning on her shoulder. But he wasn’t going to sleep, Mamma said to stay alert. She was thinking about home, they would be gone for about a month. Ruby would miss her friends, most of all she would miss Julio. He had been…well, he still was her best friend but she was beginning to feel something more. Usually, when Julio put his arm around her shoulder like he did normally on a daily, friendly basis, she felt nothing but friendship. Now she was uncomfortable and nervous when he did that and when he touched her she felt light headed and bubbly. She thought about what it would be like to kiss him. But he was her best friend, she didn’t want to change things did she? All she knew is that she would miss Julio the most. She would miss Mamma too and worry about her endlessly all the way over there in Europe by herself and would probably be the only negro woman in the volunteer Nursing unit.

There were a lot of bad things that Ruby remembered about the south. However, there were just as many good memories. She and her cousin Coretta had, they played games pretending to be black Princess Elisabeth and Princess Margaret. They planned their futures and would play Jazz singer, dressing up, assembling a jazz club and sing jazz songs that Coretta wrote. Coretta said she would come to visit Ruby up in New York. Coretta was especially giddy about seeing the scene in Harlem, the theaters, dance clubs, the restaurants and black people could go to these places and yes they could use the front entrance.

It would be nice to see Coretta again, she was two years older than Ruby. Although older they were more like twin sisters there was no bossy older cousin dynamic between them it was grand to be around her. Seeing grandpa would be fun because he never treated her like a girl who couldn’t things properly. He took her fishing, showed her how to milk the cows, play baseball, let her climb trees even though he was too old to demonstrate himself. Harlem didn’t have much space to just play, it was a concrete jungle. Down south you could do cartwheels and ride bikes. Grandpa always took Ruby and Jesse for Ice cream. She smiled at the memory of seeing family again.

Jesse woke up and looked around as if only now being aware that he was on the train,

“Aint we to the south yet? Ive been sleep for feels like 2 days.” Ruby rolled her eyes and said “No its gonna be another 10 hours at least”. She hoped he wasnt going to get on her last nerve for 10 hours straight.


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