Former Olympian Jeremy Bloom’s non-profit organization Wish Of A Lifetime takes up the task of granting seniors over the age of 65 a dream. For Dorothy Flood, the wish appeared to be an easy one: the 75-year-old woman simply wanted to ride in a train dining car, a life long dream of hers, ever since the South’s Jim Crow laws prevented her from doing so at the age of six.
Flood grew up in relatively diverse Jersey City, NJ, during the early 1940s, and was spared much of the discrimination commonly seen in the South during that era. However, her first exposure to Jim Crow occurred during a trip to North Carolina with her grandmother. When the train approached Baltimore, black passengers were forced to the back of the train, while whites moved into separate cars. Confused, the six-year-old Flood asked her grandmother why.
“She said we were people of color, so we weren’t allowed to sit in there and eat,” Flood said. “It didn’t make any sense because I was going to school with them. I lived next to them. But now that I crossed that Mason-Dixon Line, I couldn’t be with them? I didn’t understand it,” Flood told NPR.
As a part of the segregation, blacks were not allowed into the dining cars of the train. Instead, they brought their own lunches aboard in shoe boxes. “I guess that was the easiest thing to carry them in. And every shoe box would have fried chicken, pound cake … a hard-boiled egg and fruit,” Flood said. “And to this day it’s the best fried chicken I ever had.”
She would repeat the trip every summer with her grandmother, but the laws preventing them from entering the dining car never changed. When Wish Of A Lifetime brought her aboard the first class dining car of the Royal Gorge Route in Canon City, Colorado, the memories of those trips came rushing back.
“I can’t believe it. I don’t remember it being quite this elegant, but then again, I never was in there,” Flood said of the oak-and-brass-adorned dining car. “It’s fabulous. And I know my grandmother’s spirit — she’s right here with me. She’s probably smiling and laughing … after all these years.”