In 1923, when Mom was five, her mother—“Grandmuddy,” as I later called her—loaded a basket with fried chicken, potato salad, and biscuits, then she and her three children dressed carefully for the trip and headed to the train station for a day-and-a-half ride to visit relatives in El Paso, Texas. Aware that the colored car was near the front of the train and that their clothes would become blackened with soot from the engine, all the colored passengers put on dark clothes—a brown cotton dress for Grandmuddy, a dark blue dress with white plastic buttons down the front for Ruby, and brown wool jackets and knickers for the boys. Everyone—whites in their colorful outfits on one side of the station, blacks in their somber-hued garments on the other—waited, perched on wooden benches, luggage all around.
The moment the train came into view, the travelers on either side of the station jumped up and smoothed out their clothing. Men collected the luggage. Women collected the children. As the train chugged to a stop, my mother and her brothers saw porters in handsome blue uniforms suddenly appear, as if from nowhere, and throng the station. They were colored! Colored men did work on the railroad! The porters rushed around, calling out to each other, assisting one passenger and then the next—all the whites before any blacks—to board the train, throwing sacks of letters into the mail car, and heaving suitcases and trunks into the baggage car. The three children stood and stared.
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