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Langston Hughes, "Adventures in Dining." The Chicago Defender,
June 2, 1945.

I have just come out of the South, having been during this lecture season from the Carolinas to Texas. On some trains heading southward from Washington through Virginia, I have been served without difficulty at any table in the diner, with white passengers eating with me. Further South, I have encountered the curtain, behind which I had to sit in order to eat, often being served with the colored Pullman porters and brakemen. On other trains there has been no curtain and no intention for Negroes to eat.

Coming out of Chattanooga on such a train, I went into the diner on the first call for dinner because sometimes these days if you wait for the second call everything will be gone. As I entered the diner, I said to the white steward, "One, please." He looked at me in amazement and walked off toward the other end of the car. The diner was filling rapidly, but there were still a couple of empty tables in the center of the car, so I went ahead and sat down.

Three whites soon joined me, then all the seats in the dining car were taken. The steward came and gave the three whites menus, but ignored me. Every time he passed, though, he would look at me and frown. Finally he leaned over and whispered in my ear.

"Say, fellow, are you Puerto Rican?"

"No," I said, "I'm American."

"Not American Negro, are you?" he demanded.

"I'm just hungry," I said loudly.

He gave me a menu! The colored waiters grinned. They served me with great courtesy, a quality which I have always found our dining car waiters to possess.

Copyright © 1945 by Langston Hughes.   Selected from the Library of America anthology.  See  Reporting  Civil  Rights:  American Journalism 1941-1963.