Richmond, 1958


My father, mother, and I traveled six hundred miles
and twenty years back
in a brand new Plymouth sedan.

We traveled from Brown*
Back to Plessy**
in sixteen hours of straight driving
except for stops in small-town filling stations
Mount Sterling, Olive Hill, Ashland
Charleston, White Sulfur Springs
On old U.S. 60
Two lanes round and round
the tops of the Appalachians
through fog and moonlight and sunshine
and snowfall.
On route 60
there were no motels
For colored people.

We traveled back to Jim Crow schools and
Jim Crow rules
Back to the Confederacy
Back to Dixie
Back to backdoors
And balconies
Called “the crows’ nest”
Back to hurt and harm
And shame.

*The Supreme Court decision to integrate public schools, Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.
**The Supreme Court decision in 1896 that made racial segregation constitutional, Plessy v. Ferguson.

David Cooper teaches English and African American Studies at Jefferson Community and Technical College in Louisville, Kentucky. He has published poetry in Mused Magazine, The Bluegrass Literary Review and The Kentucky Poetry Review.

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  1. “Richmond 1958” by David Cooper conjures up memories of traveling in the south with church members as we went to have joint services with other distant black baptist churches. Trips made with fried chicken and bread and lemonade to tide us over until we reached our destination. Trips made with stops along the way for breaks in the bushes with towel paper where girls had to learn to squat and try not to splash on black patent leather Sunday schools and white socks. Warmed up pee on shoes and socks would make for a long unpleasant ride. This poem evoked powerful memories of a not to distant past. A mix of pleasure and sadness.

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