My best friend at Bainbridge is a 19-year-old young man named Ray Dudley from Chicago. We study together, we bond like brothers, and basically we become inseparable. When we leave the base to go to Baltimore or Washington, D.C., for a weekend, we frequently do so together.
Ray and I are returning to the base after a weekend in D.C. It’s 10 p.m. on a Sunday night and we are due back on base at Bainbridge before midnight. We decide to stop in the little town of Havre de Grace, Maryland, and have a dish of fried rice, as we haven’t eaten all day. It is an inexpensive meal for two hungry sailors in the uniform of the United States Navy before the ten-mile cab ride to the base.
I’m startled when I hear, “Sorry, boys, we can’t serve you in this restaurant.” I ask the waitress why that is—the restaurant is open until midnight, and there are lots of returning servicemen eating. She looks sheepishly at me and simply shrugs her shoulders and points at my best friend, a U.S. Navy serviceman serving his country as a member of the armed forces . . . and then it hits me squarely in the face, as if someone just punched me with a vicious blow. Ray is an African American, and in this little town in Maryland they don’t serve people who do not have white skin.
I ask to speak to a manager, but no one of higher authority appears. The waitress doesn’t want to have an unpleasant scene, but I am outraged and embarrassed for my friend. Ray has lived with this kind of prejudice all of his life and motions to me to leave quietly to avoid any possibility of a serious conflict.
I have never experienced the horror of racial prejudice like this. I am perplexed, deeply saddened, and so hurt for my friend. But more than this, I am outraged at the insanity of refusing to serve another human being who is wearing the uniform of the armed forces of his country, and willing to go to war and die so that the opportunity to live and breathe freely is preserved for everyone—even the owners of restaurants, and the waitresses who work there. […]
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