It was third grade.
The intercom crackled as the Principle fumbled with the mike, and then he spoke.
He said that the President of the United States had just been shot, and he asked us to pray for him.
I closed my eyes and bowed my head.
I looked up when I heard snickers.
Some of the children passed notes.
The teacher sat at her desk and calmly read.
No one else was praying.
Ten minutes later the principle announced that the President was dead. He sent us home. School was closed.
We marched out of class and our teacher helped us board the buses.
She put me on a bus with kids from 7th grade.
Some of them were as old as 14.
The driver pulled out and once the bus cleared the schoolyard he raised his voice in a chant: “Yay! The n—– lover is dead! Yay! The n—– lover is dead!”
The kids picked up the chant: They stomped their feet and clapped their hands and sang: “Yay! The n—– lover is dead! Yay!”
I turned and watched out the window. The bus was slow. People came out of their houses and met with their neighbors. Some of them smiled. Some looked sad. Some laughed.
I had seen the President on TV.
He seemed like a nice man.
I felt sad.
A big kid grabbed me by the collar and asked me why I wasn’t chanting.
I was startled and didn’t answer.
“What’s wrong with you, boy? You a n—– lover?
The driver stopped for a red light. He said: “We ain’t keeping no n—– lovin’ babies on this bus! YOU A N—– LOVIN BABY?
The big kid shoved me back into the seat, two more joined him. He said: “You a n—— lover? Yes or no?
I didn’t answer.
I didn’t know what n—– lover was.
The words made no sense to me.
The kid that asked the question punched me hard in the stomach.
I saw that coming and ready and went numb.
I sat quietly and stared at the kid that punched me.
The kids grouped around me and repeated their chant as loud as they could. ”Yay! the n—– lover is dead! Yay! THE N—– LOVER IS DEAD! YAY!
Another big kid took out a pack of Winston’s and lit one. He said he was going to burn the n—–lover outta me.
He held the lit cigarette to my face. The boy behind him said: “Not the face, shithead! The arms!”
That was new.
I wasn’t prepared.
I felt the cigarette sear my arm.
I screamed and went blank.
I don’t remember anything after that.
“…In the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal… But wherever we are, we must all, in our daily lives, live up to the age-old faith that peace and freedom walk together”.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy June 10, 1963