This is an excerpt from my book:
When I was four we moved to East Islip on Long Island in the state of New York. I don’t remember much about it, except that our house had a little pond with a bridge over it in the back yard, and the beach we went to in the summer was segregated — although I didn’t know what that meant at the time. I recall pressing my nose up against a chain link fence and seeing people with brown skin on the other side. I was fascinated. I had never seen a person with brown skin. I didn’t understand why we couldn’t go over there and play with them. They were different, so I reasoned that they must be special.
What I didn’t remember — Ma told me this story many years later — was that when we were still living in Cleveland and I was just a toddler, one day she took me and Bertie to the dime store and we sat down at the soda fountain for something to eat. There was a big black man working behind the counter, wiping up our place with a damp rag. I had never seen a black person before, and I pointed and cried in delight, “Ma, look at the brown man!” My mother cringed with embarrassment, and the man behind the counter swore, threw his rag down on the floor, and stomped out of the store. I wish I could have said, “Wait! Wait! Some day I’ll marry two black men and be a jazz musician!” Too late.