A number of months ago I was sitting in a wild but elegant club located in the lively night district of Hamburg, Germany. I sat in discomfort; the same discomfort I had felt for the past two days—I was a Jew in Germany. Reason and education had told me that this new Germany was only a distant cousin of the Germany responsible for the atrocious crimes of World War II, yet I could not relax and enjoy myself, though my companion was pretty and the drinks were strong. I did not trust her; I did not trust the people.
The girl—Michialene, her name was—interrupted my uneasy reverie.
"Look," she pointed to the dance floor, "the doctor is having a good time again. What a popular man."
I saw a distinguished-looking Negro, graying at the temples, smiling broadly as he led his partner, a lovely white girl, through a spirited mambo.
I am ashamed of what followed, but I relate it now because I believe it helps explain the fact that—eight months later—I was unable to persuade the Negro All-Stars of the AFL from boycotting the All-Star game in New Orleans.
Resentful jealousy overwhelmed me as I watched this Negro with his white partner. That he was able to uninhibitedly enjoy himself in the public company of a white girl meant he had freedom, the complete comfort that comes with natural acceptance. Where was mine? I was suspicious of all around me. How many in this very nightclub resented my presence? All?
I was like the man for whom success is not enough—his best friend must also fail. My friend had made good. We had changed places in another country.
He needs a reminder, said my liquored thoughts. We share the same boat; climb back in, brother, feel uneasy here as I do. There are plenty of people who don't like us. I won't let you escape it.
And so I watched him, a look of distaste on my face, hoping he would look my way, see again a white man's dire derangement. I did catch his eye and saw his smile become unreal—he recognized the look. Now he felt my eyes on him. He remembered who he was. Three, four, five times he glanced my way. Always I was watching. No mistake now; he knew. I had made him remember that bigotry still existed in some people. The fun was gone from his evening, and he left soon afterward.
Perhaps the guilt I felt that night still haunted me as I stood in front of the Negro players in New Orleans and asked them to reconsider. Because rather than holding firm in my arguments against their decision, I felt more and more sympathy with them.