Interview with Leo Lillard


Leo Lillard:

When I was a boy , um, of course Nashville was clearly two, a divided town. We were very much aware of that, and yet on the other hand, we really didn't, di-didn't care. We were very much contained, we knew our culture, we knew what we were about. But it was clear that when I was very young, that I had some problems asking my mother questions about why that was, I knew that it was, but I was always curious to why it was. And one day we were at Kress [store], and Kress had these beautiful marble fountains, water fountains, and one was, one was-said, once, said "Colored" and one said "White." And being the kind of kid I was I went over to both fountains and tasted the water and told my mother, "Tastes the same to me, Mom." said, she said, uh, "Boy, come on here." Said, I said, "Mother, what's the reason? Why are there two names up there and the water is exactly the same, Mom." She said, "Boy, come on here, we ain't got time t-t-to fool around with that kind of mess." And I always thought, you know, that-that there was a, there was a, there was something in the back of her head that she wasn't giving me.** And of course as I grew, I grew older had an incident on the bus in Nashville, Tennessee. The buses of course were segregated, the white folks sat in the front, and back folks sat in the black, black folks sat in the back in Nashville. And, one day I was riding the bus and I decided I was going to sit on the bus for the last three blocks of the ride. And it was a Twelfth Avenue bus, full of black folks and not nobody in the front of the bus, seats empty. I decided I want to sit on the, up front of the bus, at least the last three blocks of this trip. So I did. Got on the front of the bus, I walked up to the front, and of course the bus driver looked in the mirror, you know, he said uh, obviously he had to d-do something. S-so he, luckily I rode two blocks before he did anything. At the third, before he got to the third block he was just sensing I was gonna get off at the third block. He stopped, and he told me I had to move, I'd uh, have to go back with the rest of the, whatever he said, you know. And I said "No, I ain't going nowhere." And uh, he came up, and he said "Now I'm going to give you two more chances to go back," and I said, "No, I ain't going nowhere." So he grabbed me by the collar, as they always did, drug me up the aisle, and threw me, tried to, I think he tried to throw me down the steps, but I held to the, to the bar cause I wanted to look back at the faces of black folks who were sitting there, and I don't know why I did that. I wanted to look back and see what they were, what was on their minds. And the, and the look I saw in their eyes I'd never forget as long as I live. Didn't, didn't one person move, di-didn't one person mutter a word. They looked at me as if I was holding 'em up from getting home, uh, ashamed of black f-folks, y'know, you know, as a, as a, as a people, and I was, ju-ju- just utterly clowning. And I'll never forget the looks on those faces. So I got thrown off the bus finally, he took my hand and threw me off the bus, and I said, well something has got to change in Nashville, there's no reason for those fountains to be there, there's no reason for empty seats to be here, and no adult can tell me why, no adult can actually explain to me why it is that way, satisfactorily. They could tell me all other things, I couldn't figure out why they couldn't tell me that.