It was a sunny Sunday in June, 1960, when 2 other youth workers and I left the Chicago area to spend a week at a Youth Leadership Training School at Wartburg Lutheran Seminary in Dubuque. Iowa. Being the youngest and least experienced in youth work, I was eager to learn as much as possible to improve my skills so had a healthy sense of anticipation. Never did I imagine the education that awaited me!
As we were getting close to the seminary, the thought of going somewhere enjoyable for lunch was uppermost in our minds. On a small hill, overlooking the road, an affordable but home-style oking restaurant caught our eye. In fact, it had been recommended by others who had previously attended this Leadership Training School. As we entered, we were greeted warmly by two tables of pastors and youth leaders who had arrived just minutes ahead of us. The home cooking signs and delicious smelling aromas convinced us we were at the right place to satisfy our hunger pangs.
We seated ourselves near the others we knew and glanced at the menus in the napkin holders. But the waitress curtly informed us we could not be served as “we do not serve people of color,” so one of us would have to leave. Shocked, we tried to convince the waitress we were all just fine but the manager then ushered us out. The other two tables of friends immediately got up and also tried to convince the manager to let us stay. He threatened to call the police so everyone left, at least a dozen hungry customers. This was a dreadful situation and we all decided to eat at the seminary cafeteria. Neither Ruth or I knew what to say to Fannie. We suspected this was not the first time she had been treated so unfairly and rudely. But for me, it was my first experience with outright racial prejudice. It affected me deeply.
When finally we found the seminary and the cafeteria, it was Fannie who helped get us back to our mood of anticipation. Her delightful sense of humor had us laughing and we actually enjoyed the cafeteria food and our friends who also congregated there. She did not want us to be so disturbed that a damper was put on the upcoming week.
During the week, Fannie had a significant role in the training. For several years she had been serving as parish worker in a poor inner city church and was able to give her perspective on many aspects of reaching young people with the love of God. Prior to attending this leadership school, I had driven carloads of youth from my church to activities at her church. We had brought food and pizza and helped paint and decorate their youth meeting room. I knew it was a rough neighborhood and on one trip, my tire was slashed. Fannie had to be very careful never to walk home alone. Fannie’s youth group had previously come to meetings at our church as well. But obviously we had not walked in her footsteps.
Since this time, over 65 years ago, it has been my sincere desire to be aware and actively involved in interracial causes and activities. I enjoyed teaching youth and serving on the church board of a church in Tampa that is predominantly
black. Now, living back on Florida’s East Coast, I love attending a church that is an amazing mix of African American, Hispanic, Asian, and White. Thank God, some things have improved but there is still much to do.