Ernest dreamed big, too

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By W.B. Evans

I’ve always heard that our last thoughts or conversations before bedtime may come back to us in our dreams.

There’s a good bit of truth to that.

While visiting with family in Maryland on Jan. 17, I noticed the television newscasts were filled with film clips of the late Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and the impact his life made.

There were a lot of announcements of the many downtown activities going on in and around Washington, D.C., on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

In this Maryland market, King’s inspiring “I Have a Dream” speech was broadcast several times, too.

As a born and raised Southerner, I naturally had mixed emotions about Dr. King. He was all for helping blacks and poor whites in a way that everybody would be equal or, at least, have the same opportunities.

With those thoughts flooding my mind, I turned in for the night.

I reckon it’s natural that a lot of my dreams somehow relate to earlier days in my life.

Out of nowhere appeared my old friend, Ernest.

Ernest was a good buddy who lived on “the other side of town.”

Honest, I never favored one buddy over the other and Ernest was colored.

I say colored because I thought Ernest didn’t care very much about being called black.

I had known Ernest since we both were little. His mama worked as a maid for our next door neighbors.

And sometimes, if I was lucky, she’d bring Ernest along to play with me.

One might say, Ernest and I grew up together. He ate with us and we played games in my room. I never thought that much about race. I was just glad he was around to play with.

Now, on Wednesday afternoons (if I had behaved), I usually got to go uptown. That was a treat because it meant a trip to the dime stores and an ice cream cone or Cherry Coca Cola at the drug store.

I didn’t think too much about it at the time, but you know, Ernest could never join me for those Wednesday afternoon adventures.

I would invite him, but his mama would say no and that she had something else for him to do.

I never quite understood that and come to think of it, I don’t think Ernest did, either.

I always believed the only dumb question is the one that don’t get asked.

“Mama, why can’t the colored folks sit inside the drug store with us?” 

Evidently, Mama, who was the smartest person I knew, didn’t have an answer.

“Because,” was all she said.

I couldn’t figure out why Ernest couldn’t go to my school. He would have been a great teammate on the baseball squad. I didn’t dare ask Mama, though. I knew the answer would be another “because.” Any time you asked those kinds of questions, a “because” answer was all you got.

Just after we turned 11, Ernest’s family moved to Charlotte.

His daddy was drafted into the Army and his mama found a better paying job up there. But on some weekends, Ernest came down here and we got to play together for a few hours.

From our conversations, I don’t think Ernest ever took a shine to the Queen City life.

“Colored folks are treated about the same there as they are in Lancaster,” Ernest said.

His words took me by surprise. That was the first time I had ever heard Ernest mention something about how colored folks were treated. I was young, but I never forgot that.

As the years past, visits from Ernest became less frequent. When he did come here, I noticed a subtle change in him. Yes, we were growing up, but Ernest wasn’t the same old buddy of years past. 

Ernest said he was in some clubs in his neighborhood. He told me in secret, that “colored folks are going to make things change,” but never told me why or how.

“We’ll get to eat in the white folk’s cafes and could sit anywhere on a bus we want to,” he said.

I didn’t think too much about it, but it sounded fair. I had seen enough of the unfair part. My walks downtown would’ve been a whole lot more fun if Ernest could’ve gone.

The way I figured it, Ernest was right. If a fella pays the same amount for a bus ticket as me, he’s entitled to sit anywhere he wants to sit.

The last I heard, Ernest was killed by a hit and run driver on a busy Charlotte street.

His dreams of change would only be dreams, but Dr. King was dreaming them, too. And his work helped turn some of Ernest dreams into reality.

But I still regret that Ernest didn’t live long enough to see those dreams realized.

What a sight it would’ve been to see us sitting together at a local drug store drinking Cherry Coca Colas and talking about it.

He remains my good buddy, still.