But I knew people who lived in Egan Homes. After people said don't mess with them, I asked why. I knew you had to go by there to get to Washington Park unless you took the long way. You had to learn to suppress your fear. If you did, you found that while some Egan Homes people might be trouble, some might not be. Some might help you out.
Egan Homes is long gone now. Razed, and replaced by a new mixed-income development, part of urban renewal.
My father would take us down to the Ollie Street YMCA all the time. Everything in Atlanta is renamed by people who live near it. "Booker T." was Booker T. Washington High School, where Dad went. It's right over there. Everything in Atlanta was "right over there." We stayed in our communities. The Ollie Street Y was where my father took us for recreation. I learned to swim there. He taught me. He was good at it and enjoyed it. And the YMCA is still there today.
At Washington Park, we had cookouts. As children, we didn't know we were "Negroes," or if we did, we didn't know exactly what that meant. We didn't realize we lived in "segregation," didn't know there were better pools than the one we crowded into at the Y, or that we and our friends would be considered "have-nots" if our father wasn't the co-pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church. We weren't aware that we could and would be turned away from public accommodations, educational institutions, or turned away from desirable living spaces by the real estate restrictive covenants. We weren't aware that we were shunned by society, murdered over mere glances, made to feel less than human. We were children, and children are more than human; we were blessed, but sooner or later we'd grow up and have to face this prison of segregation, unless Daddy won his struggle. There was this great social upheaval, this "great getting-up morning" going on that would redefine our lives and existences, and those of the people around us.
Like I said. We were rehearsing Yoki's play as the alley and our friends beckoned to us. In a nearby house, Lou Rawls's "St. James Infirmary" wafted up from a "record player." Yoki also had a "record player," on which spun large-mouthed 45s filled by yellow prong adapters; "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" by the Temptations, Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness." My father preferred Mahalia Jackson singing "Amazing Grace," or Aretha Franklin singing "O Mary Don't You Weep." He often tapped his foot and bobbed his head to secular music, and he didn't deny it to us — he couldn't, not in Vine City. Music was everywhere. Like Yoki.
Yoki was five years older than me and forever putting on plays and musicals. We were her troupe. It was not often that anyone else got a starring role with Yoki around. At my shoulder was Martin III, Marty then; he was restless, sighing heavily, looking away, mumbling. Yoki was telling me what I must do to make things right before we could leave.
"You're supposed to lean over and kiss her. On the lips."
My face continued to betray me, and my lack of enthusiasm.