A Moment of Protest

From The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson:

This was the world Pershing was growing up in. He had learned the rules early in life. Now he was standing at a vacant curb, just him and a white man out prowling. He had never seen the man before, imagined he must have come in from the country and made a beeline for the colored section with one thing in mind, as was his prerogative. Not just any colored girl. A nice, clean colored girl.

The man waited, and Pershing assessed the situation. He was on the colored side of town, a block from the rooming house. He knew every turn and alley. He was in the majority around here.

He looked at the man. “A nice, clean colored girl,” he said, calculating the risks of what he might say next. “Let me see. I tell you what. You get your mama for me, and I’ll get you one.”

He didn’t wait for the man’s reaction. Pershing vanished into the colored alleys of Five Points. He couldn’t believe what had come out of his mouth. His face was flushed, and his hands shook. He could get hanged for that. Nothing more needed to happen to remind him who had the power over him and what they could do if they wanted. “You lived with it,” Pershing said years later. “But it wasn’t that you liked the taste of it.”

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