Yes I Can: The Story of Sammy Davis, Jr.

Free Yes I Can: The Story of Sammy Davis, Jr. by Sammy Davis, Jane Boyar, Burt

Book: Yes I Can: The Story of Sammy Davis, Jr. by Sammy Davis, Jane Boyar, Burt Read Free Book Online
Authors: Sammy Davis, Jane Boyar, Burt
“Hey, Philips … catch!” He tossed the watch across the barracks. I ran to get it back but just as I reached Philips he lobbed it over my head to another guy who threw it back to Jennings. I ran after it, knowing how ridiculous I looked getting there just as Jennings threw it over my head again, that I shouldn’t chase after it, that I was only encouraging them, but I was afraid they’d drop it and I couldn’t stop myself.
    “Attenshun!!!”
Every head in the barracks snapped toward the doorway. Sergeant Williams walked straight to Jennings. “What’ve you got there?”
    Jennings opened his hand and showed him my watch.
    “Whose is it?”
    Jennings shrugged.
    “It’s mine.”
    Sergeant Williams brought it to me. Jennings grinned, “Hell, Sarge, we were just kiddin’ around. I was only showing the watch to the guys.”
    “You’re a wise guy, Jennings. In the army we respect another man’s property. You just drew K.P. for a week.” He left the barracks.
    Jennings looked at me with more hatred than I had ever seen on a man’s face. “You just wait. I’ll fix you for this, black boy.”
    Hours after lights-out I lay awake trying to understand. How many white people had felt like this about me? I couldn’t remember any. Not one. Had I just been too stupid to see it? I thought of the people we’d known—agents, managers, the acts we’d worked with—these people had all been friends. I know they were. There were so many things I had to remember: the dressing rooms—had we been stuck at the end of corridors off by ourselves? Or with the other colored acts? That was ridiculous. Dressing rooms were always assigned according to our spot on the bill. And the places we stayed? They
were
almost always colored hotels and roominghouses, but I’d never thought of them like that. They were just
our
rooming houses. But, did we
have
to go to them? Didn’t we just go to them because they knew us and because they were the cheapest? Or wasn’t that the reason? Sure there were people who hadn’t liked us, but it had always been “Don’t pay attention, Poppa, he’s just jealous ‘cause we got a better act.” Or, “They don’t like us ‘cause we’re in show business.” And I’d never questioned it. In the last few years I’d known there was prejudice and hate in the world. I remembered several times Will telling me, “Someday you’ll understand.” But I didn’t understand and I couldn’t believe I ever would.
    The physical grind of basic training wasn’t as rough on me as on some of the others because as a dancer I was in good shape. I didn’t even mind the food. I’d had far worse and far less.
    Most of the men in our barracks gave me no problems, either because they didn’t care, or because after a day of Basic they were too tired to worry what the hell I was. But there were about a dozen I had to look out for. They clustered around Jennings and their-unity alone was enough to intimidate anybody who might have wanted to show friendliness toward me. When that group wasn’t around, the others would be pleasant, but as soon as one of them showed up, it was as if nobody knew me. The sneers, the loud whispers, the hate-filled looks were bad enough, but I didn’t want it to get worse. I tried to keep peace with Jennings without Tom-ing him as Edward was doing. I hoped that if I was good at my job he’d respect me, but when I was good on the rifle range he hated me all the more. If I was bad he laughed at me. I found myself walking on eggs to stay out of his way, casually but deliberately standing on a different chow line, always finding a place at one of the tables far away from him in the mess hall.
    I was dressing, fastening the strap on my watch before evening mess and it slipped off my wrist and fell to the floor next to Jennings’ bed. Before I could reach it he stood up and ground it into the floor with the heel of his boot. I heard the crack. He lifted his foot, smiling coyly, “Oh!

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