mattered. With the big white screen looming ahead, we kids couldn’t
wait for any old picture to start.
And when the ticket-taker’s booth came to life and cars began inch-
ing forward, our pulses raced even more with anticipation. A drive-in, a
drive-in, a drive-in, as we bounced around in the backseat as though we
were headed into a wondrous amusement park. Finally at the booth, we
watched the young white ticket-taker lean out to greet us with a kind of
automatic smile that froze into locked-jaw astonishment when he came
face-to-face with my dad, wallet in hand and poised to pay. The white
man—boy, really—stared at Dad, then looked away, then looked back
again. He hesitated a moment more and then said, in an apologetic whis-
per, “Sorry, no coloreds.”
Suddenly we kids not only stopped bouncing but hardly breathed.
No coloreds? But . . . what did that mean? That is, of course, we were
coloreds, Negroes, but . . . huh?
For an endless few seconds, Dad didn’t move, and I wondered what
he was thinking and what he was going to say or do—eyeing as he was
this fresh-faced white boy possessed of the knowledge and authority to
bar him from a family activity he was quite willing to pay for. It was the
strangest thing—not wanting our money, not wanting us to have a good
time, not wanting, well . . . us. And yet it wasn’t him, per se, that white
kid, for he did seem more sympathetic than angry. Nonetheless . . .
What’s the holdup? What’s going on up there? I could feel white folks
wondering in the cars behind us, as the heat in me, in our car, seemed
to rise precipitously.
Finally my father tucked his wallet back into his pocket and then
maneuvered the car away from the window, out of the line, and back
down the road.
It was like a retreat, like an utter defeat, and it was one of the most
humiliating moments of my life. As we inched along past the growing
number of cars, I kept my eyes to myself, not wanting to see how many
other kids were bouncing in anticipation, how many white kids, that
is, for I couldn’t imagine another Negro family having been as naïve as
ours. And even if there was one joyously waiting, I didn’t want to warn
them, vindictively wanting them instead to experience firsthand the rejection we’d just been subjected to.
Yet how could we have known? In many respects, desegregation had
begun to come to DC toward the end of the 1950s. And a drive-in seemed
so logically open yet private—that is, one could be outdoors yet still in