Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored Critical Essays

Clifton L. Taulbert


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Young Taulbert longs not only for a materially better future but also for a socially better future—a future in which African American children and white children play together, in which he does not have to sit on the opposite side of a movie theater from whites, in which he does not have to urinate alongside a deserted road because African Americans cannot use a restroom at a service station, and in which his mother will not react with alarm if he meddles in politics by asking who the presidential candidate is whose picture appears on a billboard. Taulbert has relatives who have moved north, and they attest that such a future is possible. Indeed, they say that it already exists there.

Taulbert experiences a measure of racial integration in Glen Allan: Mr. Hilton, a white grocer, hires him to work at the Hilton Food Store. Mrs. Knight, a visually impaired, white seamstress, prepares lunch for him as he rakes leaves, and they eat together in her home; Billy Jennings, a white teenager who works alongside African American field hands at the Jennings farm, acts friendly toward the author and allows him to share the secret that Billy’s girlfriend stops by for kisses.

Despite this minor progress in Taulbert’s individual experience, the Civil Rights movement that gained national attention in the 1950’s has not much changed Glen Allan by the time Taulbert graduates as valedictorian of his high school class in May, 1963. Not being a star...

(The entire section is 515 words.)