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Enabling bigotry

That summer and fall of 1963, I was working at Uncle Zeke's Pancake House in Wolflin Village in Amarillo.

I had worked my way up from bus boy through the dishwashing station and the grill and was a host, greeting people as they came in the front door and then seating them at the right booth or table, depending on which waitress was up next, and then giving them a menu, a glass of ice water, a placemat and silverware.

One night after the dinner rush, I heard a sound coming from the front door that I had never heard before. Someone was knocking.

Perplexed, I pushed the door open.

And standing there, hat in hand, was a black man dressed in a brown suit. Beside him were a woman and two children.

"Excuse me," he said, "but do you serve Negroes in this establishment?"

I had no idea, and the owner was gone for the day.

So, I answered him in the way I had been raised.

"Yes," I said. "Come in."

After I had sat the family in a booth in the southeast corner of the restaurant, I went to the back to find the waitress.

When she turned the corner to enter the dining room, she stopped dead in her tracks and turned to me with a face redder than her hair.

"I'm not waiting on no niggers," she hissed. "Get them out of here. Now."

I wanted to be anywhere in the universe at that moment but in Uncle Zeke's Pancake House in Wolflin Village in Amarillo.

But, I had no choice.

I can only imagine how humiliated these nice folks felt as they walked out the door and into the night -- all those fifty years ago right now.

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