A week has passed since Obama won the US elections. So much has been written. So much has been said. There will certainly be more …
I truly hope Barack Obama makes a great US President. Certainly, it is a triumphant moment for those seeking equality of blacks and whites. It is a time which many thought would not come.
I wish that my father was alive to see this resounding victory.
Half a century ago he had visited the US and saw its racism up close. He also met Donald Stephens, first Chief Minister of Sabah, and they became firm friends. Here’s an extract from my dad’s biography, Tunku Abdullah – A Passion for Life:
After the divorce, Tunku Abdullah was invited by the State Department of the United States to tour the US in his capacity as prince, a leader in the youth movement and a civil servant. Not one to drown in his sorrows, he jumped at this opportunity.
So in April 1958, he arrived at Honolulu airport. Whilst queuing at immigration, he heard a big man ahead in the line ahead talking to himself in Malay, complaining about the ill-mannered Americans not behaving in the queue. The prince wondered who this man was and so after passing through immigration, he asked this man where he came from since he spoke Malay. The man asked “How do you know?” The Tunku replied, “You were talking to yourself, I heard you”. The man then told the Tunku that his name was Donald Stephens and he was from North Borneo where he ran a small newspaper called the North Borneo Times – furthermore, he also happened to be in the US at the invitation of the State Department. A real coincidence!
The prince introduced himself and said that perhaps they should meet for a drink that evening. So that evening the thirty-two year old prince and the thirty-seven year old business man sat down in a bar and, as they found they enjoyed each other’s company, they decided that they should tour the States together and so, once it Washington D.C, asked the State Department to put them on the same travel itinerary.
So the pair visited Washington, New Orleans, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago, even Puerto Rico. The Tunku was then a lowly paid civil servant, but and Donald Stephens had deep pockets and so paid for much of the merriment …
During the two month visit, the pair visited New Orleans in Louisiana, and were feted to a sumptuous lunch hosted by the Governor. After the meal, the prince said he needed to use the washroom and an official took him down to a landing with two signs one said “Whites” the other “Coloreds”. The official led him toward the Whites’ restroom but the Tunku protested saying: “No, no, I am coloured”. The official insisted that he use the restroom reserved for the Whites but the Tunku was adamant that he was a person of coloured skin. The official gave up and allowed him to use the Colored’s washroom. Donald Stephens was pleased when the Tunku told him of what happened, saying he would have done the same. The Tunku felt that if the southern Whites insisted on segregating the blacks then this would only lead to their ultimate embarrassment.
This is only part of my father’s story. He had seen a lot in his life. I wish he was here though, to witness Obama’s victory.