This story was related to me yesterday. It broke my heart. I’ll do my best to retell it here just as the man told it to me.
I grew up in Miami (Florida). But keep in mind it was a very different place back then. My cousins and I had free reign. We’d get up early and grab our bikes, pedal to a row boat we’d stashed on the banks of a lake and then we’d fish all day.
Not like today, when kids are watched over constantly. I think the Adam Walsh case changed all of that, but this was back in 1959 or ’60, a long time before that. Anyway, we went everywhere.
There was a walled neighborhood where the Blacks lived. It was walled off, separate from the other parts of the town, but sometimes my friends and I would play baseball in an area of sugar sand right behind the wall. And a lot of the kids from the black neighborhood would climb the wall and come join the game.
We had a grand time until, of course, one of the white moms would notice and call the cops to make the black kids go back to their own neighborhood. You see, it just wasn’t done, the mixing.
There was a lake behind the sugar sand, with a ring of homes around it. We loved to swim there, even though it was off limits. In the middle of the lake was a small island where ducks liked to nest. We called it Duck Egg Island.
We’d get the eggs and have duck egg fights, but to get to the lake we had to walk past the walled neighborhood where the Blacks lived and then cut through one of the yards of the homes around the lake. We did it all the time.
One day as we passed the wall a little black child sitting on top of it hollered at us. “Hey! Where y’all going?”
Someone told him we were headed to a swimming hole. Without a pause he jumped down off that wall and joined us.
Now my friends and I were like fish. We swam every day. We never considered that a kid our age couldn’t swim.
The lake was fairly shallow until you got about 10 yards out, then it dropped dramatically. When we got to Duck Egg Island someone noticed the black kid wasn’t with us.
We swam back and one of us, I don’t remember who, dove under, but he couldn’t get to the child. We all tried. Again and again. He was too deep.
Now, we should have gone for help right away, but we knew we weren’t supposed to be swimming in that lake. And we knew we weren’t supposed to be playing with black kids. Finally someone ran to a nearby house and an ambulance was called. But of course it was way too late.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think about that kid.
The storyteller bowed his head and cried at this admission. I cried, too.