Children of Jim Crow |
Segregation in Public Places |
Blacks Remember Jim Crow |
Northerners Experience Jim Crow |
Surviving Jim Crow |
Whites Remember Jim Crow |
Desegregation Hits |
Legacy of Jim Crow |
Other Marginalized Groups Experience Jim Crow |
I was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan--nowhere near Dixie: Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, etc. After I graduated from Doty elementary school in the sixth grade, my parents sent me way across town to the far East side of the city, and it was lily white. They thought I would get a better education there, instead of the all black junior and senior high schools (Hutchins and Northern) in our neighborhood----right smack dab in the center of the city. It was an hour and a half bus ride, one-way. After I got off the bus, I still had approximately one mile to walk. On my first day taking the bus, I got off and began my one-mile trek. A white lady peeped at me out of her kitchen window as I passed her house. She smiled and waved. I smiled and waved back, thinking everything would go just fine at my new school. When I got to school, I was introduced as the new kid and all, and everybody said hi, just to be polite, but there was sniggering behind my back all throughout the morning. When lunchtime came, we got our lunches and sat down. The white boys in front of me began to snigger and giggle. All the while, I'm wondering what was so funny? Then, this big burly white boy, who was sitting next to me, turned to me, got right in my face, and said,"YOU NIGGER." I sat there hurt and pulverized. Almost everyone at the table cracked up laughing, but some seemed ashamed at that boy's actions. Later on in class, a boy named Steven Ennis pulled me aside and said, "Greg, don't worry about them, they say stupid things sometimes." I guess that was his way of apologizing for his friends.
Integration in the School
In the fall of 1957 in my hometown of Vandalia, Missouri, the black children were integrated from the Lincoln schools into the general public schools. This is in an area known as little Dixie with many people from Mississippi and Alabama. Our teacher in first grade, Ms. Leta Moore, told us in the spring that the nigger children were going to join us in the fall. They were not as smart as us, but we should treat them with respect just the same. At that time the African Americans had to live in "niggertown" and had to be in its limits by 6 p.m. nightly. They could not shop downtown, in this metropolis of 2800, until after 2 p.m. on Saturday. It was the last remnant of Jim Crow in the border states.
My Parents' Example
My parents were very active in the Civil Rights movement in Jackson, Mississippi. They were white, and their efforts were condemned by almost all of their friends and by others. My mother, an excellent seamstress, taught sewing to black women to help them make money for their families. With a few other white women, she visited Freedom Riders who had been thrown into a makeshift jail at the Mississippi State Fairgrounds, hoping that the presence of white observers would help protect the prisoners. My father, a pediatrician and one of the first Mississippi doctors to integrate waiting rooms, provided leadership to bi-racial efforts, as well as low-cost medical care for poor black people. Both spoke out for racial harmony and justice.
Their efforts attracted attention dangerous in 60s Jackson. They began receiving threats, sometimes by phone but more often, written ones thrown in the night onto our driveway. One morning, as they picked up the night's "deliveries" before we children could see them, my mother began to cry, saying how much she feared and hated these threats. My father said, "I only wish we had done enough to deserve them." That was the example my sisters and I had, and it has guided us in our actions throughout our lives.
How Jim Crow Affected me
In 1962, I had just returned to Mississippi after finishing seminary at Emory University in Atlanta and was appointed to a church in Oxford, MS (the same time James Meredith came to the University of Mississippi). My wife and I had a part-time black maid who was invited to sit at the bar in the kitchen at lunchtime to eat when we ate. Black domestic workers were usually fed after the whites had eaten. The story got out in Oxford that a Methodist preacher was doing this horrible thing, but it got told on the wrong Methodist preacher who got moved at the end of that year on that account.
In l967, I was in my first year as a professor of philosophy and religion and was teaching a course on World Religions. We got to Judaism just in time for Yom Kippur so I called the local Rabbi, who also taught German, and asked about bringing my class to the Yom Kippur service. He approved. It didn't occur to me that the local temple hadn't ever had a black visitor until late in the afternoon before the service. I called the Rabbi who said to bring the class anyway. We were the center of attention that evening. The next morning my phone began to ring very early. Even Baptists called to protest my integrating the synagogue.
The End of Segregation in Kingfisher, OK
In 1955 I moved to my grandma's house in the east side; the alley behind our house divided "Nigger town" from the rest of the town. As a 6th grader, I had never spoken with a colored, now just across the alley I would see them, but never spoke to them. The next year we integrated. It went smoothly; we got along well, there was no animosity at all. As a sophomore I heard the first comment by colored boy who felt he was treated unfairly because of his race at an altercation in the locker room after football practice. Although I detested the (white) boy on the other side, it clearly was not racial and it bothered me that the colored boy thought it was.
About that time I began to consider segregation. The coloreds had their own cafes, barber shops, beer joints etc. But where did they buy shoes? Cars?
These people would use the word "NIGGER," right in my face, and even holler over me using it, talking to one another. I was so busy trying to be accepted by the whites, I tried not to let it bother me, but it did, and in no small way. Sometimes my white "friends" would be engaged in some conversation about "NIGGERS," and would stop, look at me, and say, "We don't mean you Greg, we're talking about these other guys." I remember the day after King was shot. From the moment I entered the classroom, all eyes were staring at me. I felt like I was being pierced with Superman's x-ray eyes. I felt so lonely during my junior high years, until I started Denby high. At least there were about fifty blacks there out of a student population of about 3,000. Just recently I saw Steve Ennis at our 30th high school reunion. We laughed and joked about old times, so much so, we practically split our guts, laughing harder than anyone else. This incident and his apology was never even thought of, let alone mentioned. Another guy was at the reunion from my junior high days. He was the first and loudest to laugh, right in my face, after I was called a "nigger." He was also the one who went around school, hollering out loud through the hallways, calling this mixed race girl: half-breed. At the reunion we made small talk and laughed. Neither that incident nor others like it were mentioned. What would be the point? On that 30th reunion day, we were all old buddies, trying to remember the good times when we grew up together. I was glad to see all of 'em.
Highland Park, MI