The Enigmatic Man
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
They left the Durham city limits and entered the real South.
For Amy Kraham, the change was striking as she ventured out of the cocoon of Duke University that summer of 1987 and drove her old Ford Granada into the North Carolina countryside.
The journey was simple: to fetch a puppy advertised in the paper. But her fiance, a med student, wasn't able to go with her. So Claude Allen Jr., a Duke University Law School friend, volunteered to go.
They were just two people, driving down the road, getting lost in unfamiliar terrain. But he was black, she was white. The twilight zone of race awaited them as they stopped at a roadside store.
"When we walked into the convenience store, the atmosphere became very charged and hostile," Kraham recalls.
Allen stepped to the counter. A white man was there. Allen asked for directions. The man just stared at him, said nothing.
The man seemed "challenging and somewhat angry," Kraham says. She felt "nervous and scared." She'd never encountered anything like this in her New Jersey youth.
She spoke up, repeated their request for directions. The man turned to her and obliged.
Back in the car, Kraham was shaken, reflective. Allen said nothing about the incident. He didn't seem angry. She wondered if he'd been through such things many times before.
Allen was somewhat famous at school. His classmates, the vast majority of whom were white, knew him as the black guy who worked for Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina's famed -- and infamous -- white conservative Republican . Allen endured some gentle ribbing for it.
Finally, they arrived at the house where Kraham would find her pup, a border collie. But the woman who had the dog refused to part with it. Kraham didn't understand. She told the woman how she and her fiance had a house with a fenced yard. They'd provide a good home, Kraham assured her.
Round and round they went, until the exasperated woman asked, "Why do you keep referring to your boyfriend in the third person when he's standing right here?"