Remember the old term mulatto? Today we call it biracial or multicultural, but back then, being a mulatto was a major obstacle. At the base in Columbus, for example, where segregation was at an all-time high, blacks had to live in apartments off base because they were offered substandard living on base. That was where Dad suffered the confusion of his superiors, who thought he was white when they first met him. When we arrived, we had been awarded a lovely place on base to live, because they thought Dad was Caucasian. But before we ever moved in, they discovered their mistake and told us that since we were Negroes, we had to make other living arrangements. Dad felt comfortable living among whites, and the indignity of being asked to move out affected his self-confidence. He had dreamed of going to officer training school. He had what it took, and Mom wanted that for him, too. But he lacked the necessary confidence. He had hit the racial wall so many times, I guess he just gave up, and we lived in an apartment off base that was shockingly inferior to the living quarters on base. In fact, everything was different.
If you lived on base, you had decent facilities, good food, and current entertainment, including movies and music. If you lived off base, the public bus system hardly ever stopped for you, particularly if the back of the bus was full. On base, shuttles took you shopping or wherever else you wanted to go. Off base, you felt the humiliation, embarrassment, and sting of segregation, like when you were shopping with your family and the bus sped right by you, as if you didn't exist. In this era, we had to make sure we didn't look at someone the wrong way—it was a constant tension—or we could end up having our lives threatened. It seemed that while Air Force whites had access to whatever they needed, blacks had to make do, and there was no bucking against the status quo. The makeshift apartments where blacks lived (we called ourselves Negroes back then) were some distance from the base, and if you didn't have a car, you had better have a pair of sturdy legs.
Published on February 03, 2011