He walked away.
My parents were very proud people.
My mother, Lillian, a black French Creole from New Iberia, La., dreaded using public buses. She hated sitting behind the “Colored Only” signs on public trolleys. She would rather walk, or call one of the colored cab companies in New Orleans, or hitch a ride with one of her black Ninth Ward friends who had a car or a truck.
My father was no different.
Daddy, which is what all six of us Brown children called him, even as adults, would be talkative and happy until the moment he boarded one of those segregated public city buses with one or several of us in tow. He would then become morbidly silent, bitter — physically cold. His transformation lasted until we disembarked. Happy Daddy would come back again.
Talk of owning a car filled many of our family’s conversations, usually instigated by my mother.
“Dan,” she’d begin, addressing my father, “if we had our own car, we wouldn’t have to put up with those problems.”
And it would go on from there, sometimes for hours. I’d offer my two cents, advising that we “buy a Chevrolet and see the U.S.A.,” like that Dinah Shore woman sang about in the commercials.
But our first car was a Rambler made by American Motors — smaller and less expensive than the winged Chevrolet Bel Air sedan I wanted. Still, it really did not matter. It could have been a Cadillac. It was just fun being able to drive where we wanted without being told to sit behind a “Colored Only” sign. It made us children feel good to see our parents freed, albeit temporarily, from the humiliating burdens of Jim Crow.
Other cars followed, including a full-bodied Chevrolet Impala and several Cadillacs, including a snazzy coupe, largely thanks to my mother’s ability to persuade several of her white bosses that it was time for them to buy a new car and let her “take that old thing off your hands” — at a discount, of course.
Meanwhile, in nearby Montgomery, Ala., another woman of color, Rosa Parks, had decided to take on Jim Crow more deliberately. In December 1955, she refused to give up her seat to a white patron on a public Montgomery bus. That led to a successful, year-long boycott of the city’s segregated buses by black consumers — a civil rights protest largely enabled by a system of “private taxis,” black people with cars giving rides to black people in need of transportation.