And That’s the Way It Was

Long before he narrated our nation’s milestone events as the anchorman of the CBS Evening News, Walter Cronkite was a cub reporter in Houston. In these excerpts from his forthcoming memoir, A Reporter’s Life, the eighty-year-old recalls his early days in the newspaper business—and the dark days of segregation.

Walter Cronkite was born in St. Joseph, Missouri, in 1916, and his family moved from Kansas City to Houston when he was ten. Here, he recalls his introduction to the racial and cultural mores of his new hometown in the twenties. • I regret that my memory has lost the last name of Louis, for he should be remembered. He was one of the delivery boys at the delivery boys at the Alabama Pharmacy. He was one of the blacks who made deliveries by motorcycle to the more distant addresses. A couple of us white boys rode bicycles to the closer customers.

Louis was probably the oldest of the motorcycle boys—I think he was in his early twenties. He wasn’t very attractive and was totally uneducated. He had a muscular body and a leonine head with rather gross features and a strange fringe of whiskers that ran up along his cheekbones from just under his nose to his ears, an upside-down beard. He claimed that the higher one shaved, the higher hair would grow until eventually it would cover one’s eyes. As a recent initiate to shaving, I was terrified by the prospect, until it seeped through that all the clean-shaven men in the world weren’t growing hair over their eyes. This was an argument, however, that Louis could not grasp.

Louis had a musical talent that would be left undeveloped. He played haunting melodies that he made up on an ocarina, which he called a sweet potato. As we sat on our bench outside the drugstore, I heard for the first time blacks talk of

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