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Authors: Gwenyth Swain

Riding to Washington

BOOK: Riding to Washington
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Janie is not exactly sure why her daddy is riding a bus from Indianapolis to Washington, D.C. She knows why she has to go—to stay out of her mother's way, especially with the twins now teething. But Daddy wants to hear a man named Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak, and to keep out of trouble Janie is sent along. Riding the bus with them is a mishmash of people, black and white, young and old. They seem very different from Janie.

As the bus travels across cities and farm fields to its historic destination, Janie discovers firsthand the injustices that many others are made to endure. She begins to realize that she's not so different from the other riders and that, as young as she is, her actions can affect change.


Illustrated by


To my father, G. Henry Swain, for sharing memories of the ride to Washington. And to my mother, Margaret Coman Swain, for putting up with me and my four sisters at home during that hot, sticky August of 1963.
G. S .

To those who labor for the rights of all humanity.
D. G.

I know why they're putting me on that bus to Washington. It's 'cause I get in trouble.

“Trouble with a capital T,” Mama always says. Most times she says it with a smile in her eyes. Other times, like when I slam the screen door by accident and wake up the twins—well, those times I have to look hard to find the smile.

Daddy doesn't want me to go with him on that bus to Washington, but it sounds like I'm going anyhow.

“A whole lot of people are going to hear Dr. King speak,” he told Mama one night late when he thought I was sleeping. “I don't like the idea of taking Janie. She's a spitfire.”

You know what
means? I think it must mean I spit fire. Guess that's Daddy's way of saying I'm trouble.

“Honey” Mama told Daddy, “that girl makes more mischief than I can bear, what with the twins teething.”

So, that's how I ended up riding to Washington, hundreds of miles from home. I knew why I was going, but I wasn't so sure why Daddy was.

We don't have coloreds, or black folks, living in our part of Indianapolis. I don't see many at all, except on T V. Blacks on TV live mostly in the South. They get sprayed at with fire hoses and nipped at by police dogs. But Daddy knows a whole lot of coloreds here from work.

I think that's why Daddy's going to Washington to hear Dr. Martin Luther King speak. Because he thinks we should all work together. But Daddy just says, “We'll see history, Janie. History.”

I study history at school, and believe you me it's not exciting. Neither was leaving Indianapolis.

On Tuesday, at the Walker Theatre downtown, a bunch of old buses waited for us. They had names on them like Crispus Attucks School and Rollins Grove AME Church. And everyone getting onto them was dressed like it was the first day of school or Easter Sunday I figured I was in trouble again, wearing my favorite overalls, but Paul Taylor, from Daddy's painting crew, smiled at me.

“Nice to meet you,” said his wife. She had a hat like Mrs. Kennedy wears and a suit to match. “Your overalls look comfy” she said, winking. She was right.

There were old people mixed with young people. Preachers mixed with farmers. And me and Daddy and just a few other whites mixed in with a whole bunch of coloreds. More than I'd ever seen in one place.

I was glad when it was finally time to get on the bus. I pressed close to Daddy even in the heat.

We all brought picnic lunches, but by nighttime, we were hungry again. We stopped one, two, three times. Each time Paul Taylor and the driver went inside a restaurant. And each time they came back, shaking their heads.

“No service for mixed crowds,” Paul explained.

“Why can't we go in?” I whispered to Daddy. “You and me aren't mixed.”

“Would you want to eat where others can't?”

I was so hungry I'd have eaten almost anything, almost anywhere. But maybe Daddy was right. Maybe it was best to stick together. Still, I wondered about the coloreds. They didn't act like troublemakers—and I know a lot about trouble.

To keep our minds off food, Paul Taylor started singing. I stumbled and fumbled over words everyone else seemed to know:

This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine...

BOOK: Riding to Washington
13.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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