“Among the many perversities in American race relations is the fact that Blacks do not relish looking closely at whites. After hundreds of years of being the invisible people ourselves, as soon as many of us have achieved economic security we try to force whites into nonexistence by ignoring them.
Montreal provided me with my first experience of looking freely at whites. The underground railroad had had Canada as its final destination, and slaves had created a powerful liturgy praising Canada which was sung all over the world. Spirituals abounded with references to the Biblical body of water, the river Jordan. I had been told that Jordan, in our music, meant the Mississippi or the Arkansas or the Ohio River, and the stated aim to get to Canaan land was the slave’s way of saying he longed to go to Canada, and freedom.
Therefore, Canadians were exempt from many Blacks’ rejection of whites. They were another people. I observed their clean streets and the fact that their faces did not tighten when they saw me. The atmosphere was comfortable enough to allow me to try my recently learned French words. Sometimes I was understood.”