Recent speakers had me reminiscing about my past and some of the folks who came across my path. For example, the speaker at a Venice (Fla.) Area Historical Society lecture was supposed to discuss Florida heroes in the civil rights movement. Somehow his lecture was more about who should be in the Hall of Statues in Washington, D.C., to represent the state of Florida. He also got off track several times in discussing politics.
Someone in the audience tried to help him out by mentioning that A. Phillip Randolph, founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, had been born in Florida. That had me recalling my time as a general assignment reporter for the World Telegram and Sun in New York City in the 1960s.
I was assigned to cover a press conference by the noted Randolph, a rather distinguished looking gentleman, in upper Manhattan. While I don’t recall what happened in the room—it was 55 years ago—I do remember going down to the street to a phone booth to call in my story.
“Where are you?” the rewrite man asked. I looked around and answered, “I’m on 125th Street and some cross street.”
“Do you see any other white people around?” was the rewrite guy’s next question.
“Well, no,” I noted.
“You’re in the middle of Harlem. Get the hell out!” were my instructions.
Although I wasn’t afraid and failed to see a problem, I caught the nearest subway back to the newspaper office in lower Manhattan.
The Florida speaker then went on to talk about when Florida finally recognized the Republican Party rather than the Republican Club. He got even more sidetracked when he mentioned the 1948 presidential election between President Harry Truman and New York Governor Tom Dewey. Again, I had another recollection from my World Telegram days.
As a young reporter, I quickly learned to stay in the back of a room rather than sit in the front row seats saved for the media; that way I could see the reaction of the audience, sometimes the real story. On this particular day, the added benefit was a big bowl of popcorn.
As I listened to the speakers, I would reach back and grab a handful of popcorn. Soon, I realized someone else was doing the same thing.
“Oh, you like popcorn, too,” I quietly remarked to the man. We exchanged a few pleasantries, then he looked at me and said, “You don’t know who I am, do you?”
I glanced over again and, not remembering his name, all I could think of was, “You’re the little man on the wedding cake!”
Governor Tom Dewey laughed and exclaimed, “I guess I’ll never live that down!”
Sidna Brower Mitchell graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1963 and was named to the Ole Miss Hall of Fame. She was editor of The Daily Mississippian when James Meredith integrated the university, receiving a Pulitzer Prize nomination for her editorials and a number of other honors and job offers. The Memphis native worked for the World-Telegram and Sun in New York City and UPI in London. She held other media and public relations jobs and was part owner of weekly newspapers in Morris County, N.J., for 25 years. She has continued to write a weekly cooking column since 1975. Sidna retired as deputy director of the New Jersey Council on Affordable Housing (COAH), a controversial state agency. Still holding offices in several organizations, Sidna has taken up serious croquet in retirement and has participated in tournaments in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Florida. While she has never returned to the South to live, Sidna’s heart and cooking still have that Southern touch. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.