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Krystal clear

From “Lessons from Little Rock” by Terrence Roberts

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'LESSONS LEARNED': From Little Rock Nine member Terrence Roberts.
  • 'LESSONS LEARNED': From Little Rock Nine member Terrence Roberts.

Though he'd been to the Krystal hamburger restaurant on a number of occasions, Roberts, without thinking, sat down one day to wait for his order. He soon realized his mistake — that he was sitting in the white section.

 

“I

 trace my decision to join the Little Rock Nine almost directly to an episode that had occurred about two years earlier, when I was thirteen, on an unremarkable summer day in Little Rock. My memory of that day … is clearly imprinted on my mind. I remember it as if it happened yesterday.
Summer days in Little Rock were often quiet, lazy days. It was hot and sultry, nothing special about the day on the surface, but it would very soon become a permanent marker in time and space for me.

I had walked to the Krystal Burger, a hamburger joint in Little Rock where my favorite order was burger, fries, and chocolate malt — to go. The Krystal Burger was a white-owned establishment. I had been there many times before, and I knew the rules very well. The rules were quite clear actually. Black people could not eat the food they had purchased while still inside the Krystal Burger; they could not occupy any of the counter stools or chairs around the tables; they could only order food to go. Unlike some of the other whites-only eating places in Little Rock with a back door reserved for black customers, the Krystal Burger allowed black people to enter the front door but did not allow them beyond a very circumscribed front section. I was sitting down in a restaurant that provided seats for white customers only!
This day was no different except that right after placing my order, I hopped up on one of the stools at the counter to wait for my burger and fries. It was most certainly out of character for me to do that. I don't remember why I decided to sit on the stool that day. It just felt like an ordinary thirteen-year-old kind of thing to do while I waited, a momentary lapse of consciousness, I guess. Suddenly there was absolute silence. Nobody in the Krystal Burger that day, not the workers, nor any of the customers, said a word, but all of them turned their heads to look at me.”

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