I don’t remember how old I was when I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but I do remember how I felt. A young girl, growing up in Pakistan, I remember asking Daddy if 'Negroes' in America were still treated badly (the terminology of the fifties). He would know. He had been there in 1958. An officer in the Pakistan army, Daddy had been sent to Charleston, South Carolina on training. He told me what he saw. Years later, he would tell this story in his memoir, which I published after he passed away in 2010:
No Segregation at the Military Base
At the base, Black American officers lived in the same quarters with Whites. President Truman by Executive Order, had ended segregation in the armed forces. I got to know a Black American Captain. I called him Joe. We became good friends and often went out together. One day, I told him that I wanted to go to Baltimore for shopping and sightseeing, and he insisted that he would take me in his car.
Discrimination All Around
Driving around in Baltimore, I wanted to have a cup of coffee. Joe drove me to a nice cafe and stopped the car. He did not come out, saying that he didn’t want coffee. I kept pressing him to join me, but he declined politely. I decided not to go either, but he insisted that I should enjoy my cup of coffee. When I entered the cafe, I saw the sign, “Black men not allowed –Rights of Admission Reserved”. I realized that segregation was still prevalent outside the sanctuary of the military base. I felt so ashamed to have put my friend in such a humiliating situation. At that moment in time, could I ever have imagined in my wildest dreams that exactly 50 years later, Barack Obama, an African American would be making a historic victory speech, after being elected President of the United States?
Mr. and Mrs. Loving
Joe told me about this couple. A white man and a Black woman, who were residents of Virginia, married in June 1958. Since the State law banned marriages between Blacks and Whites, they had gone to Washington, D.C. to get married. Upon their return to Virginia, they were charged with violation of ban. The police officers who had invaded their home, were hoping to find them in the act of sex (another crime). In their defense, the wife pointed to their marriage certificate on the wall of the bedroom. That, instead of defending them, became the evidence the police needed for a criminal charge. They were put on trial, they pleaded guilty and were sentenced to one year in prison. However, they were allowed to leave the State of Virginia and avoid going to prison. Joe showed me the newspaper that published the salient points of the trial. What surprised me and hurt me, were remarks of the trial judge who gave interpretation of race. He proclaimed that:
Almighty God created the races White, Black, Yellow, Malay and Red. And he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with His arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriage. The fact that He separated the races, shows that He did not intend for the races to mix.
After I had returned to Pakistan, I heard that Robert Kennedy, the Attorney General, had taken up their case, which eventually resulted in the Supreme Court verdict against ban on inter-racial marriages.
In May 2008, my grandson Asim, wrote to me that Mrs. Loving had died on May 2nd. I wish she had lived for 6 more months to see an African American elected as President of the United States of America.
Excerpt from 'Reflections' by Lt. Col. Kazim Akbar