We’d had an enjoyable fun filled day on Bob Lo Island located in the middle of the Detroit River.
It was the only amusement park I really knew about. We were on the return boat trip to Detroit when I would turn a run of the mill trip into controversy. I decided to dance with a white girl. And that sent shock waves through the black and brown girls at Pattengill Elementary School, my neighborhood school.
Every year teachers passed out permission slips to ship for a fun filled day at Boblo Island. It was the best trip of the year. It topped school trips to the Detroit Historical Museum, the DIA and the Belle Isle Children’s Zoo.
After riding The Wild Mouse, Dodge Em cars and all the other rides we gathered in line to board the boat for the 45-minute trip downtown. I noticed a pretty white girl with long flowing brownish hair. I nodded. She nodded back and said hello.
She was with her female friends. I learned early in life that you never approach a girl you like when her girls are around. They are nothing but trouble.
Once on the boat the Pattengill crew climbed the steps to the third deck of the Boblo boat where we could enjoy the afternoon breeze and get a better glimpse of the passing towns off the river.
In the 1970s black boys did not talk to white girls. We did not date. We could not be friends. And we could not dance. I glanced across the deck and the white girl with flowing dark hair leaned against the railing as we sailed toward Detroit. Her friends were not around.
This might be my last chance to meet her. So I approached and nearly turned back. Chills ran up and down my back. I became petrified because I was approaching sacred ground. What if she screamed? What if she told me to get away from her?
I mustered up all my inner strength and said hello. She smiled and said hello back.
I leaned on the railing next to her and we talked for the next 10 minutes. She was from Trenton, a place I never heard of.
“We pass it on the way to Boblo,” she said.
Thanks for the education. I thought it was in Macomb County. Seriously.
She was on a day trip with her parents and some girl friends. She needed to get away for a bit. That’s why she stood on the third deck, leaning against the rail by her self.
I began to feel more comfortable around her. I reached for her hand and instead of recoiling she wrapped her hands around mine. I felt her warmth transfer from her body to mine. I was no longer on the Boblo boat. I was on the Love Boat.
I asked her to dance. She said yes. We had to walk by all the black and brown girls from Pattengill and I don’t know who they were more angry at. Me? Or her?
We danced one song and returned to our third deck perch. I could feel the girls from Pattengill and a few other people staring a hole through the back of my skull. I didn’t care. I met a new friend and we enjoyed each other’s company.
I swear that 45-minute boat ride lasted 10 minutes. It was time to disembark. I wanted to kiss her or hug her. I thought better of it and we sort of nodded toward each other and shook hands.
After the boat ride her parents bitched at her as her girlfriends stood around. I did not want her getting in trouble because of me. I never knew if that was the reason because I only overheard the dad complaining of her disappearing.
My lecture was coming.
Nobody sat next to me on the bus ride back to school. The girls were angry and wanted nothing to do with me because I turned my back on them. About 10 minutes after we left downtown Debra Brown sat next to me. She was a girl who spoke her mind. The other girls sent her over to lecture me.
“Why did you have to dance with a white girl,?” she asked. “Aren’t we good enough for you?”
I told her that I wanted to meet a new friend. Besides, the girls at Pattengill complained that I was not a good dancer. I meant no disrespect. I liked the girl and wanted to dance with her. That’s it.
“You have to be careful. You know that white people are crazy. I don’t want you to get killed over a white girl,” Debra lectured. “Come back home. We still love you.”
I didn’t go anywhere. I thought about how crazy the world was back then. You can’t hold hands with a white girl? You can’t dance with her?Find Terry Foster Podcast here: