THE AMAZING SOUTHWEST
Article Written by
“Eenie Meenie Minie Mo, Take a Seat, We Gotta
These immortal words have landed SW Airlines in court. They are
being sued by two irate passengers. You don’t believe me? Please
Sometimes in dance class, I need a lady student to demonstrate a
move. For lack of a better method, for the past twenty years or so I
have used the classic picking rhyme “eenie meenie minie mo”.
I need a woman for a
demonstration. So I point to each
individual woman as I go down the line
and say, “eenie meenie minie mo, catch a lady by the toe. If
she hollers make her say I’ll take lessons every day.”
Stupid? Of course.
Offensive? I hope not. No one has complained yet.
Someone always gets picked. Invariably they feel paranoid about the
entire process. When asked, they figured I was going after them
anyway and just used the stupid rhyme to cover my evil plans to
harass them. The process is silly and soon over.
Did I say I have been doing it this way for twenty years?
Yes I did. Is
there any malice or hidden agenda? I
swear on a stack of Bibles I never gave any of this a second
thought. I needed someone at random one day and the rhyme came to my
Did I know this rhyme had a racist background?
End of Story??
Not quite. You must read this article from the Chronicle
Tuesday, February 11, 2003
Rhyme with a past leads to racial suit
against Southwest Airlines
Kansas City, Kansas
A judge has set a trial date in a discrimination lawsuit
filed against Southwest Airlines by two black passengers who
were upset when a flight attendant recited a version of a
rhyme with a racist history.
Grace Fuller, 48, and her sister, Louise Sawyer, 46, were
returning from Las Vegas two years ago when flight attendant
Jennifer Cundiff, trying to get passengers – who are not
assigned seats – to sit down, said over the intercom,
“Eenie, meenie, minie, mo; pick a seat, we gotta go.”
The sisters say the rhyme was directed at them and was a
reference to its racist version that predates the Civil
“It was like I was too dumb to find a seat,” Fuller said.
Sawyer said fellow passengers snickered at the rhyme, which
made her feel alienated.
The sisters are seeking unspecified compensatory and
US District Judge Kathryn Vratil last week dismissed the
claims of physical and emotional distress but set a trial
for March 4.
“The court agrees with
plaintiffs that because of its history, the phrase ‘eenie meenie
minie mo could reasonably be viewed as objectively racist and
offensive,” Vratil wrote.
In the modern version of the rhyme, the second line goes, “Catch
a tiger by the toe.”
Airline attorney John Cowden said there was no intent to
discriminate against any passenger.
Cundiff, who is white and was 22 at the time of the incident,
said she had never heard the offensive version of the rhyme. She
said she learned the Southwest Airline version from co-workers
and used it as a funny way of getting fliers to sit down.
Plaintiffs attorney Scott Wissel said the sisters also want
Dallas-based SW Airlines to stop using the rhyme and provide
employee training to prevent such incidents.
After reading this article in astonishment, it took me several
minutes before I remembered there was indeed a racist version of the
rhyme. To be absolutely honest, that ‘version’ had not crossed my
mind in over 40 years. I had completely forgotten about it.
If my rhyme has ever offended any reader who heard it in class, I am
sorry but please understand nothing disrespectful is meant. It is
the only picking rhyme I know besides ‘she loves me, she loves me
not’. I suppose I could get a supply of flowers to keep on hand…
I wonder why the incident on the plane could not have been defused
with a simple explanation from the bewildered attendant who had no
idea what the problem was. After all, the announcement was made
blindly over the intercom by a woman who had never heard the nasty
version in her life. Why did these women take it so personally?? And
was the affront so horrible it needed to be taken to court?? These
women did not deserve to be disrespected, but based on what the
article said it doesn’t seem the attendant meant to hurt them in the
first place. I certainly hope there is more to the story than was
Thinking about this story reminded me of an experience from my
When I was 13, my mother worked in the Houston Medical Center. She
made friends with a young black man named Marion Ford who was in
dental school. When he graduated, he offered to do a crown on a
chipped tooth that I needed. My mother didn’t have a lot of money
and Dr. Ford offered to do the work at a discount since he was just
getting his practice established. It was a kind offer that benefited
all three of us.
One Saturday morning I got on the bus and went all the way to an
area known as Kashmere Gardens. I was pretty terrified since I was
the only white person on the bus.
During the hour ride I received many hostile stares. Race relations
in Houston 1963 were very tense. Then as I walked to his office at
5109 Lockwood Street, I remember a man stopped me to ask what I was
doing in his neighborhood. Yes, in case you were wondering I was
very afraid. I said I was going to Dr. Ford’s office. He finally
stepped aside to let me pass.
I spent nearly the whole day at Dr. Ford’s office. He worked on me
whenever there was a break in his schedule. As Dr. Ford attended to
his other patients, I grew tired of studying my eighth grade Latin
book. That was the day I was supposed to memorize the Lord’s Prayer
in Latin. “Pater Noster qui es in caelis, santificuter nomen tuum…”.
So I went outside his office to get some fresh air. For lack of
anything better to do, I started throwing rocks against a tree in
the front yard of his office. I threw towards the street with my
back to his office. I wasn’t a very accurate thrower to begin with,
but the street was fifty yards away. My errant tosses were no threat
to persons or property.
To my surprise, a teenager came up to me from the sidewalk. He
looked pretty angry. He told me he was going to fight me and that I
better put up my fists. I started to put up my fists, but first I
wanted to know what we fighting about.
This young man was not happy about my question. He insisted again
that I fight him. I repeated that I would fight him if he would just
explain what we were fighting about.
Finally with a sigh of exasperation he said he wanted to fight me
because I had thrown a rock at him.
Now I understood. I patiently explained that I was merely throwing
rocks against the tree. I pointed to a pile of rocks that had
successfully struck the tree. He said that wasn’t good enough. He
said that was my pathetic excuse because I was afraid to fight him.
I said that was not true. I said I had never meant to throw a rock
at him and apologized if I had hit him.
He said I had not hit him.
Well, how close did I come? Twenty feet. That’s when I realized this
kid was looking for an excuse to beat me up. I have little doubt
this teenage tough from the wrong side of the tracks had a lot more
experience with fighting than a soft, over-protected white kid like
me did. I just didn’t feel like getting beat up for something as
stupid as this.
I said again I did not want to fight him. I promised that I meant no
harm. I apologized that he got that impression. Then I offered him
my hand. He reluctantly accepted my handshake and left. He seemed
I might add that I stayed in Dr. Ford’s office the remainder of the
afternoon. With nothing else to do I studied the Lord’s Prayer which
to this day I can still recite in totum.
Amazing the things that stick in your mind.
From my own experience and the SW Airlines incident I can only
conclude that old wounds take a long long time to heal. I suppose we
cannot expected the pain created by two hundred years of slavery and
one hundred years of racist evils after that to be healed in one
Be that as it may, it is my hope that anyone who attends my studio
be they Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, Muslim, Hindu, Christian,
Jew, straight, gay, from another planet or from Dallas will
experience that they are very welcome here just as long as they
treat everyone with the same kindness and respect that they
All human beings need to see past our differences and realize we are
one people. That said, hatred is a powerful emotion. Like
radioactivity, once hatred is activated it seems to take eons to
dissipate. Hatred is blinding, maddening, and all-consuming.
Today we have the power to eliminate our species from the Earth
completely. Be it another Holocaust, a nuclear war, or a lethal
plague, there is a huge chance someone’s hatred will spin so badly
out of control it will mean the end of the human race. Without some
sort of forgiveness and understanding, our world is in terrible
It is the responsibility of each individual to find a way to get
along before it is too late.
COMMENTARY ON CNN
Racist Nursery Rhyme?
Aired February 27, 2003 - 07:47 ET
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to shift our attention right
now to a feature we do here with our good friend, Jeffrey Toobin.
It's called "I am Jacked."
"Eenie, meenie, minie, moe," you've heard the nursery rhyme before.
You might not know that the rhyme has roots in racism.
That's the basis right now of a discrimination lawsuit filed against
Southwest Airlines by two women, two African-Americans.
Now, in his segment today, let's bring in Jeffrey.
Do you object? Why?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I object. OK, let's just set the
stage of what happened in this case.
Southwest Airlines, a flight from Las Vegas to Kansas City. They get
on the flight, the two women who become the plaintiffs, and they
can't -- there are no seats available. And if you've ever flown on
Southwest, you know that the flight attendants are sort of jokey
(ph) sometimes, and they say, "eenie, meenie, minie, moe; take a
seat, we gotta go." And they finally take a seat.
Months later, they file a lawsuit against Southwest, saying that "eenie,
meenie, minie moe" is a racist nursery rhyme, and that they were
offended and their rights were violated.
Now, what you probably don't know, and what I didn’t know, but what
a lot of people do know is that it does have a racist history. The
old phrase was, "eenie, meenie, minie moe, catch an 'N word' by the
toe. If he hollers, make him pay $50 every day." That has been
replaced by "catch a tiger by the toe" -- very familiar to everyone.
This is an insane lawsuit, as far as I can tell. You know, the
phrase, "don't make a federal case out if it," seems to be invented
for this lawsuit, but it is going to trial in April.
HEMMER: You say it degrades the currency of actual racial
TOOBIN: Well, racial discrimination is a serious, real thing in this
country, and to let a lawsuit like this go to trial, it seems to me
to degrade, you know, a serious subject and make a joke out of it.
HEMMER: Well, here's what they're claiming -- put it on the screen
right now: "As a direct result of Southwest's conduct, Ms. Fuller
was subjected to ridicule and suffered severe humiliation, emotional
distress, mental anguish, bodily harm." You buying this?
TOOBIN: Well, I mean, first, there's no evidence of any of that. And
you know, the poor flight attendant, there is no evidence at all
that this flight attendant knew that there was this ugly history to
this phrase. She was just trying to get people to get seated on the
And look at the size of this, look at this brief. This is all about
the nursery rhyme.
HEMMER: What do they want? Do they want money? Do they want an
TOOBIN: They want money. You know, the legal rule. I've cited this
before. When people say it's not about the money, it is about the
HEMMER: It is about money.
HEMMER: Quickly though, you say there is no impact on this woman.
They are saying right now -- back to the screen again: "As a direct
result of the severe emotional distress caused by Southwest's
conduct, Ms. Fuller suffered an epileptic seizure on the evening of
February 15, 2001."
TOOBIN: This a joke or what?
HEMMER: You laugh again.
TOOBIN: I mean, you know, this woman is an epileptic and that's very
sad and I'm sorry about that. But you know, this nursery rhyme did
not cause her to have an epileptic seizure. That is not what the
legal system is all about.
HEMMER: Not everything is with the lawsuit, you're saying.
TOOBIN: You know? Don't make a federal case out of that. That's my
HEMMER: Thank you, pal.
TOOBIN: All right, man.
HEMMER: You can object all of the time.
TOOBIN: All right.
HEMMER: Talk to you next hour about Robert Blake and what we saw and
TOOBIN: I object to that, too.
HEMMER: Excellent. Thanks.
Jurors find no discrimination in
flight attendant's rhyme use
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Southwest Airline
flight attendant's variation on a rhyme with a racist history did
not discriminate against two black passengers, a federal jury
The U.S. District Court jury of seven white men and one white woman
deliberated less than an hour Wednesday before reaching its verdict.
Grace Fuller, 49, and her sister Louise Sawyer, 46, both of suburban
Kansas City, filed the suit over comments flight attendant Jennifer
Cundiff made after they boarded a Southwest flight to return from a
Las Vegas vacation three years ago next month.
As the two were trying to find seats on the crowded plane, Cundiff
said over the intercom, "Eenie, meenie, minie, moe; pick a seat, we
Sawyer and Fuller said the rhyme immediately struck them as a
reference to an older, racist version in which the first line is
followed by the words "catch a n——r by the toe." They testified at
the two-day trial that they were embarrassed, humiliated and
frustrated. Fuller said she suffered a small seizure on the flight
home, which said was triggered by the remark. Later at home, she
said she had a grand mal seizure and was bedridden for three days.
Cundiff, 25, of Argyle, Texas, testified that she had never heard
the racist version and that she was only trying to inject humor to
make the flight more enjoyable and memorable. She wanted passengers
to take their seats so the plane could leave.
Cundiff, who had been a flight attendant for eight months at the
time, said she had used the rhyme before on other flights. She said
that it was not until she showed her mother the letters complaining
about what she said that she learned about the racist version of the
Fuller said after the verdict that there was enough evidence for
jurors to have found she and her sister had been discriminated
"If we had jurors of our peers then we would have won the case
today, and we should have won the case today, with all the evidence
shown," she said.
"It's a shame that the jury pool we had to draw from did not have
one black and not one minority," she said. "Something has to be done
to make sure there is justice in America for blacks."
Fuller and her sister testified that they first wrote to Southwest
complaining that they felt the rhyme was racially offensive, asking
that flight attendants stop using it. They said they decided to sue
because they felt the airline did not take their complaints
The lawsuit accused Southwest of violating a 1981 civil rights law
that prevents businesses from discriminating against minority
customers by treating them differently from white customers for the
Scott A. Wissel, appointed to represent the women after they filed a
handwritten complaint, declined comment about the verdict. In his
closing argument he said Cundiff's use of the rhyme was tantamount
to a racial slur.
John W. Cowden, who represented Southwest Airlines, said he and his
client were pleased with the verdict.
"All along, Southwest Airlines has contended that it did not
intentionally discriminate against the two ladies," he said. "We are
pleased the jury agreed and vindicated Southwest and its flight
attendant, Jennifer Cundiff."
In his closing argument, Cowden characterized Cundiff's remarks as
an innocent attempt at humor.
"At best, this is an argument that something is not politically
correct," Cowden told jurors. "At worst, it is nothing. Certainly,
this does not support a violation of a federal statute, because
these words were spoken."
Cundiff said she was relieved and thought the verdict was fair and
just. She maintained that the rhyme had been directed at several
passengers, not just Sawyer and Fuller.
"When I first heard they complained about what I said, I didn't know
what they were talking about," she said.
While Cundiff said she probably would never use the rhyme again, "I
will not tell anyone not to say it."