CREDOS: Reconciliation — II

Muhammad Ali

It was strange going out into a world that looked at blacks as second-class citizens while being raised with pride and self-awareness at home. Although my parents tried their best to shield us from the cruelties of the world, some problems were inevitable.

One of my first encounters with prejudice happened when I was too young to remember, but I’ve heard my mother tell the story. She and I were standing at a bus stop. It was a hot day and I was thirsty, so we walked up the block to a small diner, where she asked if she could have a cup of water for her son. The man said he could not help us and closed the door in our faces. I can only imagine the pain my mother felt when she tried to find the words to explain why the man would not give me a glass of water. Even during these times my mother would say, “Hating is wrong, no matter who does the hating. It’s just plain wrong.”

When I was a little older, I saw a newspaper with a front-page story about a boy named Emmett Till. He was a black boy about the same age as me, who was brutalised and lynched while on vacation in Mississippi, supposedly for whistling at a white woman. A picture of him in his coffin was in the newspapers, with a gruesome description of what had been done to him. It made me sick, and it scared me. I was full of sadness and confusion. I didn’t realise how hateful some people could be until that day. Although I didn’t know Emmett Till personally, from that day on I could see him in every black boy and girl. I imagined him playing and laughing. As I looked at his picture in the paper, I realised that this could just as easily have been a story about me or my brother. —