A Texas noon sun beat down upon George P. Inge, Jr. as he pulled his yellow Plymouth up in front of the house that had been his home for over 30 years — 829 Nevada St. His eyes rested on the whitewashed ironwork grill that covered the center living room window. In ornate gothic lettering, his initials staked his claim to the modest plot and all on it.
He rested his head on the steering wheel, trying to calm the emotions coursing so violently through his veins. The wheel’s hardened rubber felt cool on his brow, easing his tension. He didn’t want to alarm Alma when he went inside. She could read him like an opened book and would know something was up. He was never home at this hour of day; the school demanded the full attention of its principal during the lunch break.
His need for her pulled him up straight. This was her moment as much as it was his; he owed it to her to share it. They had made the ride together each summer, and then as a family, after Baby George was born; the long drive up through the country from San Antonio to Minnesota. No Texas college offered advanced degrees to Negroes. He had a dream that required the higher degree.
The master’s had made it possible for him to become the first colored high school principal in San Antonio. His mind toyed with his words — Colored, Negro. It had been such a struggle to change the thinking of people and embrace “Colored.” Now the move was toward Negro. Whatever he was called, he had been the first of the race to serve in a position of real leadership, and now the high school.
Alma was a teacher, too — had been when he met her. She was a spitfire then. Not much had changed in that way about her. He was one of many suitors of the young cocoa-colored woman he loved. And he had loved her from the first moment that day at Fort Sam. Due to ship out for France, the young man he had been was both afraid and excited about going to war.
The sergeant’s stripes on his uniform had made him quite a catch. He loved to dance, and the party thrown for non-commissioned officers had attracted a bevy of local beauties. Alma wasn’t a beauty, but there was something about her that had caught his eye. In her eyes, he had found his future and he had known from that night that he would never call Charlottesville home again. The dark tone of her skin would make her unacceptable to the society from which he had come. But he would not live without her, so he would make a home in Texas.
Now, striding across Texas soil, he opened the car door and made it to their house. He knew that inside, on the other side of the door, she was busy with her committee work for the United Way. She would be angry that he wanted to take her away from that, and he knew better than to rile Alma. Still, this was a special circumstance.
As he opened the front door she was emerging from the kitchen into the dining room with a plated sandwich. He stood in the foyer archway watching her approach, high heels on the 16th-century silk oriental. He loved that she dressed as if she were still teaching during the day. Her still-firm breasts filled out her shirtwaist, taut nipples against the simple cotton cloth. For a moment, his thoughts wavered, he felt the familiar sensation that her presence always kindled in his loins. Man, he loved this woman.
“Inge, what are you doing here?” she challenged, startling him back to his purpose.
Words eluded him. He reached forward to grasp her hand; pecan-brown skin embraced her ebony, sweaty palms giving away his excitement. “Inge, what is wrong?” Fear crept into the edge of her voice as he simply turned and led them out to the car still idling at the curb.
They rode in pregnant silence for the 10-minute return to school. By the time they arrived, her hands were shaking, and he was helpless to explain. Rather than going to his designated parking spot, he pulled around to the athletic field, driving right up onto the berm so that she could see into the schoolyard.
There before them, young people were laughing and talking, running and jumping. A lithe Negro boy was tossing a football to a hefty redhead. Two brown-skinned girls leaned into conversation with a blue-eyed brunette — teen secrets shared. On the edges, small groups gathered more traditionally with their own kind, eying one another with suspicion.
Speechless, Inge and Alma clasped hands; tears glistened upon their cheeks as they watched. School integration had begun.