The Color of Water

After nearly a year in America, in the summer of 1956 we visited Uncle Kwong and Auntie Sheila who was my Dad’s oldest sister sibling. The two of them came to America as medical residents earlier in 1948 and were in Springfield, OH when my Dad arrived to attend seminary at Wittenberg College, Hama Divinity School in the fall.

After training, Uncle Kwong when he started his career, he contracted a position near Birmingham, AL. He served two hospitals as their sole practicing pathologist. and they lived in Anniston, AL.

We drove to see them as our first summer vacation. They had two sons, Henry, two years younger than William and I, and Cecil, a little younger than Dan. Elizabeth was just one year old at that time.

Since we lived in Springfield and were the only Chinese family at the time, it appears we were all treated as benign curiosities, ‘people of interest.’ Dad was the only Chinese pastor serving an all-white Lutheran Church, (mostly German.) We truly cannot recall that we were subject to any significant discrimination. Perhaps those who had such feelings avoided us.

Our trip to Alabama was an eye opener. When we arrived at the Kwong house, we went to their grocery store. We kids were running around, and I noted that there were separate drinking fountains, side by side. One was labeled White, and the other Colored. By now, my mastery of one year of English allowed me to read. I ran to Mom excitedly and proclaimed, ‘America is truly great; they even serve soda water at the drinking fountain.’ I quickly ran over and pushed the button. To my disbelief the water was simply clear! Mom quickly came behind me and pulled me away. Scolding me not to fool around but pay more attention, that fountain was meant for the black people. The Kwongs didn’t use fountains when they shopped but waited to drink when they were home. We learned that they avoided situations where things were obviously segregated, not knowing how white people would react.

Anniston had a recreational area in the hills, I remembered it as Cheaha Public Park. There was a median size lake where people swam. The Kwong boys were obviously experience swimmers. Immediately they dove off a large rock into the water and were on the other side. while we were just getting into our suits. Dan went into the water first and was slowly walking towards the Kwongs and I was behind him. Suddenly he disappeared under the water because the ledge suddenly sloped away. I was still standing on the ledge and thinking that I could grab him and pull him back. I reach as far as I could and could not reach him. Without hesitation, I took a deep breath and dove into the water and pull Dan’s hair and brought him up to breathe. But now I was in deep water and I don’t swim either. But out of nowhere, William came and pulled both of us out to the ledge. The Kwong boys thought we were hilarious and thought everyone could swim!! We played in shallow water for the rest of the time and had fun because it was ghastly hot and humid.

Before we left, My Dad wanted to take everyone to a restaurant and asked Uncle Kwong for a recommendation. To our surprise he said they only ate at home because they don’t know which restaurant may not serve them and he never wanted to create a scene. Dad insisted that we’d eat somewhere and said before we would go in, we ‘d ask. We were very cordially served at a country buffet diner.

That was Alabama in the 1950’s.

2 thoughts on “The Color of Water

  1. The park was Cheaha State Park. FYI, I could barely swim either. I had been to the park before, so I knew where the dropoffs and deeper water were.

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