The last 20 pages of Travels with Charley are downright painful. Steinbeck ends his journey across America with a stop in the south. It is 1960. The ‘n’ word is The Word. He watches a demonstration outside a school where a little girl is trying to go to school. Hatred and fear infect everyone and everything.
Fifty years later, things have improved, right? Maybe. But not enough. When I visit my childhood home in southern Missouri, people still use that word. There is still this hatred and fear. Fifty years later. When I tell this to friends and neighbors in northern California they, like Steinbeck, can’t believe it’s possible. They have never seen it or heard it. “That can’t be,” they say.
I promise you. It can. It is. Fifty years on and there is still such a long way to go.