As I review my life as a colored girl, riding the Trailways bus on a weekly basis was my most uncomfortable and anxiety producing experience. So, why was I riding the bus on a weekly basis?

Our colored Baker Academy only went to sixth grade. The colored students were bused past the white high school to Dunbar High School in Fort Myers, a fifty-mile round trip. Besides having to get up and catch a bus by seven in the morning, Punta Gorda students were denied the full school experience related to extracurricular activities. The boys who played sports had to find and pay for their own transportation back to Punta Gorda.

My mother, Bernice, wanted me to have the full school experience, academics, and extra-curricular activities denied to bus riders. She made a simple request to the school board at the end of the 1956 school year. She asked that I receive monies for room and board to live with my aunt Ruth, a teacher at Booker High School in Sarasota. Mother was, of course, denied that request; they said that if they did that for me, they would have to do it for every colored student who requested it. To satisfy my mother, who was an active member of the NAACP (The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), and to quell any intention that my mother might bring up the 1954 Brown decision, they quickly placed two portables at Baker for the 7th and 8th graders. A few years later, they built a new Baker Academy, as many southern school districts were doing, for fear that the colored would push for school desegregation. The new Baker was indeed substantially better than the old Baker Academy. Now colored students had a library, a cafeteria, and even were able to have a band.

I never attended Baker in the portables or the new school. For six years, 7–12th grade, I attended Booker High School in Sarasota. Each Friday, I took the 6:30 bus to Punta Gorda, except when I wished to stay over for a football game or was able to get a ride home. I was saved from having to ride the bus back on Sunday by the pastor of my grandmother’s church, who lived in Sarasota.

“Back of the bus," back seat,” and headaches or nausea from the exhaust describe my experience for those six years. Each week, I stood at the back of the line with other colored to wait to board the bus, then, with anxiety in my heart and mind, hoped that the last two rows of seats before the back seat would not be taken by whites. I was lucky sometimes and not at other times. I don’t remember ever having to stand up for the fifty-mile trip, but the lack of any sense of personal space was most depressing and uncomfortable. The continuous smell of exhaust made me nauseous. Some sixty or so years later, I am still uncomfortable taking a bus.

The backseat of the bus to this colored girl was intended as a disregard for our humanity, the view that we were one underserving entity, not separate individuals, whose discomfort felt when encroachment in our personal space occurred was immaterial because we were not truly human.

The backseat, however, served a higher purpose for this colored girl. As I look back over those years, I understand that the hour of discomfort experienced was a small sacrifice to prepare me for my purpose and to reach my full potential. Those six years built a sense of self-determination and resilience in me. “I can do this!!!” was the message I internalized.