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 |
Legacy of Jim Crow
Bridgeport Library Branch, Chicago, IL, Circa 1963
Two friends and I visited the Bridgeport Library Branch in Chicago, Illinois.
Bridgeport was the neighborhood of former Mayor Richard J. Daily and is all white. We were three Black young men of 11 and 12 years old. We visited the Bridgeport Branch because we couldn't find the books we needed at the Oakland branch, in the Black neighborhood. We crossed the color line to the other side of the tracks. We were young and didn't know. We were more afraid of avoiding the Black street gangs on the other side of the projects (Stateway Gardens).
After we got our books, we started to walk back home. We had no particular problems at the library other than strange looks (e.g., like "what are you niggers doing here"). Half way back to our neighborhood we were chased by a mob of white youths. They were out for blood. I remember the shouts of "kill those niggers".
We split up and ran in panic. One made it back to the library, one got caught in a storefront, and I ran like hell back to the neighborhood. I didn't make it.
One of the mob members crashed his bike in front of me, a few hundred yards in front of the rest of the mob. We prepared to duke it out, before the rest of the mob arrived. I remember an old white man stopped his car and boomed, "leave that boy alone". I was surely saved from a severe beating. I was literally saved by a stranger. The mob held back and I suffered no more than a few scrapes and bruises.
As I reached the overpass on the Dan Ryan highway at 35th Street, I stopped and waited for my buddies. To my surprise, one stepped off a CTA bus (the one who returned to the library). He was escorted to the bus by the librarian. More surprising was that my other buddy was being escorted by the store owner and a few more white adults to the overpass. He only suffered a bruised jaw from a sucker punch.
I was never so scared in all of my life. We were attacked by a white mob for our brazen boldness to use the white library branch. My mother had to return my books.
Epilogue. I read a few years ago that another Black youth was attacked by a white mob in Bridgeport for playing on a softball field. He suffered severe head trauma and last I heard he was in a coma. I was lucky, he wasn't. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Kenneth M. Stone, CPA
St. Louis , MO
Jim Crow in the 1940s
Growing up in central Pennsylvania in the late thirties and forties, I remember a popular movie was not showing in my hometown of Bellefonte. We had just two theatres, but the movie was showing at State College, home of the great Penn State Nittany Lions. But negroes could attend only if they sat in a special section in the balcony. I often wondered how Jim Crow traveled over the many Nittany Mountains to State College, Pennsylvania.
I settled, very hurt, for a weak Gene Autry western.
Another slap-in-the-face was the local branch of the American Legion. Of course at age of 17 I was not eligible, due to no record of service in the military. But their policy was "no colored", so because of this I went into the Navy in World War II, where I got another dose of Jim Crow. The officers presumed us colored sailors to be suited to be cooks, waiters and house boys, with no regard to our background, education or aptitude. Imagine being segregated in civilian life and then have your government assign you to segregated units. To further humiliate us, we were assigned to separate sleeping bunks aboard the carrier.
This was not Mississippi in the 1920s. This was the 1940s. After the Navy, I joined the Washington Police Department. I could not drive any police vehicles in the nation's capital. When I was assigned on weekends, I could not arrest white people west of 7th St., I could only arrest whites when the white officers were off and we were needed to fill in.
Jim Crow was America's form of apartheid and the scars are still there.
Columbia , MD
For years, I always heard my mother speak about "the land." Often when she spoke about it, it would be with that somewhat shy and embarassed tone that educated black folks living up north use when talking about the folks they left back home. It was one of those pieces of history that over time had to become myth or else you would spend too much time worrying over it. That's what my mother's aunt and her people were doing, back in Natchez, worrying too much about that Land. Larry Boy, my mother's cousin, who was just a few years older then me, carried around a briefcase full of papers. Every now and then he would call us, soliciting funds for a lawsuit over the land. I reacted like my mother until one day, I went to Natchez for a family reunion and looked at Larry's papers. The papers told a pretty straight forward story, though I cannot now remember it all.
It seems that we could have been oil barons.
Apparently, my mother's father or great grandfather had a piece of land back in the 1920s that I think was given to him by the owners of a plantation where he was a slave. He kept this land until the 1920s when someone claimed he had not paid taxes on the land. The land was then seized, auctioned and purchased by one of the rich families of Natchez. Then, oil was found on the land. This is the story Larry told me as he pulled a photocopy of a tax receipt showing that my great grandfather had paid his taxes and that the land was really stolen from him. Then he showed me more papers about the lawsuit filed against the thieves by my mother's uncle, and papers declaring an old aunt, the rightful heir, insane so they could file the suit.
Everybody agreed that he shouldn't have. He was probably cheated. But this was 1950s Natchez, now. He was black. Not well educated. They were white and they were the law. What more was there to say? So everyone got a couple of hundred dollars rather than tens of thousands perhaps. It could have given my family some real wealth, something for us to inherit that would put us on equal footing rather than a legacy of oppression and slavery that everyone tries to convince us is more myth than real. Today, Larry Boy still goes to city hall, poring over records and worrying about a piece of land that must now be a superfund site. So whenever people mention the word reparations, I think of the land (and so must the heirs of those who stole it).
St. Louis , MO
Jim Crow in the North
I grew up in the fifties, in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Black people lived on the north side of town and white people lived on the south side of town. We all went to the same high school simply because there was only one high school in the town.
There was a swim team, a cheerleading team and other various extracurricular activities offered at the school. However, looking at my high school yearbook today, not one Black person is represented in these activities.
I was enrolled in what was termed a "commercial" course, not the college prep courses that were offered. The commercial courses consisted of typing, filing, some bookkeeping, and office procedures. One day, as I sat at my desk trying to get the concept of debits and credits, the teacher, Mr. Richey, came to me and said, "I see you're having a little trouble with this problem." I said "Yes, I am." He then said, "Well, don't worry too much about it, just be sure to come to class and I'll just mark you as passing for the rest of the term." Unfortunately, I had no parental backup at home who would challenge this slight, but I never forgot it. I did go on to finish college in my late 30s, but I do believe I carried a fear of math all of these years because some white man told me I did not have the ability nor the brains to solve a bookkeeping concept.
The Deep South
I moved with my family to Atlanta at the end of World War II. I was six and a half years old. I absorbed the southern accent and the attitudes of those around me, but at the same time felt very uncomfortable with the way the Black people were treated by the white people. The patronizing attitude was the worst. No one gave them credit for being adults or having any brains. They were either viewed as animals or children. They had to drink, eat and pee separately from us. And yet the servants were all black. They cooked our food, washed our clothes, took care of the babies, and performed all sorts of intimate chores. My observation was that the so-called Christians were the most bigoted and racist. They worked hardest at keeping the Blacks "in their place" (which was, if they could work it, at the absolute bottom).
When I finally left the south in my early 20s, I remember thinking the three most noticeable things about the southern culture were the three Bsbacon grease, bigotry and the Baptist church.
I go back there from time to time. I have lived overseas all my adult life and when I return to Georgia, I know why I left. I think the bigotry is still there, although people aren't allowed to practice it so blatantly.
The bad news is that bigotry exists in all the other places I've lived in too. Humans really are a sorry lot!
Sydney, New South Wales , W. DC
The children laugh, almost disbelieving my memories of growing up in Natchez, Mississippi during the 1950s and 60s. Maybe one day I will write a book, just for them. Pictures in a book of "White only" signs above entrances and water fountains are like "whatnots" on a table, harmless and quiet, unable to reveal the real crime against humanity. And I've got a book in me.
A "white only" sign above the only bus or train depot entrance in a thunderstorm, with your mama getting soaked, holding a shoebox full of food because restaurants serve "white only" is another matter altogether.
Approaching the dentist's office, we would swing to the rear to the "colored" waiting room, the back porch and wooden benches. We couldn't show enough gratitude and we waited in winter coats, rain coats, and in sweltering summer heat.
The "white only" public school threw their outdated books to the "colored" schools, instead of in the trash. But our diligent teachers taught us to sand the outer edges so the books would at least appear clean and we made book covers from brown grocery bags.
We could buy everything in the dimestore but a soda or a burger from the same dimestore's lunch counter. All hotel rooms were "white only". We watched movies from the segregated "colored" balcony of the theaters. People were beaten and killed or just disappeared because voting was for "whites only". A "white only" ambulance couldn't respond to a "colored" emergency, so local "colored" funeral homes provided this service to our community, though they had no medical training.
Most horrendous of all is the still unsolved murder of Wharlest Jackson, whose truck was bombed as he drove home from work, having been recently moved from custodial duties to "a white man's job" of painting tires at the plant. Oh, the murders, all over Mississppi.
Like I said, I gotta book in me.
Avondale Estates, MS
The Loving Arms of the Black Community
I used to say that I was born and raised in Jim Crow South Carolina. I don't say that anymore. Now I say, I was born and raised in the loving arms of the Black community of South Carolina.
I changed because, despite the harshness of the South of those years (I was born in 1948), lately I have come to realize that the true miracle was the care, protection, and Black love that surrounded me, protected me, and guided me in those years.
Within the limits of Jim Crow, my family, my neighbors and my teachers created a space in which I could feel safe and in which I could grow.
In the segregated high school, for example, I learned French from a teacher who loved me. Later, moving to Los Angeles, I attended an "integrated" high school, and I took Spanish.
I remember the French.
College Park , GA
Better, Not Bitter
When we were poor...
We were poor in capital resources in the 50s. Yep. We ate well and dressed well. Dad drove a new '57 Mercury that we all lovingly referred to as the "Big M".
We drove from Oklahoma to the beaches of South California or to Chicago every summer. We were able to take those trips because dad had three jobs. He never bothered to tell us how much he had to work to make ends meet. But we never had reason to ask, either, because he was always there when we needed him. On those California trips we packed a lot of fried chicken, bologna, cheese and crackers. We normally drove 1200 non-stop miles to get there. Why? Well, because of the effect Jim Crow attitudes had on my dad's career we had little money to spend on restaurants and motels. Due to its effect on business owners, we could not have slept or dined in even if we could have afforded it. Along route 66 I witnessed plenty of "no colored" signs at Phillips 66 gas stations and the like. But they were at least kind enough to let us pee out back and drink water from a dirty, dingy looking ladle that was set up next to the nice porcelain water fountains. Nevertheless, Jim Crow's positive effect was that dad had a driving desire to insure that his three boys were going to be exposed to the rest of the world in spite of old Jim. Thanks, Jim. Because of you I got to see the country.
She made us read...
Mom was a wonderful housewife who demanded that, among other things such as cleaning house and washing dishes and such, we read books. During summer vacations we were driven, in the "Big M", to the public library behind George Washington Carver Jr. High. But reading came easy to us because we were taught, by example, as we each exited the womb.
I remember one of the biggest days of my young life being the day our parents bought the World Book Encyclopedia. I almost lost it when I saw those transparent multi-colored overlays of the human body. We learned so much about the world, some of which we'd seen, by having this wealth of information at our fingertips. In fact, we had a little thing at our house that when someone would ask a somewhat bewildering question about a subject, the common reply was "look it up". And we did. My folks were bent on insuring that we weren't held back by the same Jim Crow that held them back. Thanks Jim, for applying the pressure that made me and my two brothers so knowledgeable about so many things.
The son of a janitor...
After my dad cut his workload down to two jobs, the family actually pitched in to help him with the 2nd one. We cleaned a two building, three floor Baptist church. Yep, we made it spotless after the congregation's Wednesday night fried chicken dinner and on Saturday mornings so it would be ready for their Sunday worship. We also locked up on Sunday nights. I'll never forget the Wednesday night I trailed behind my dad through the parishioner populated hallways of the educational building when a little blonde boy about my age exclaimed (negatively) to me, "The son of a janitor". Although I took it hard back then, I came to take much pride in being the son of a janitor. Ha, I'll bet he'd never stuck his feet in the Pacific Ocean...something I'd done on several occasions. Another thing this job helped to generate was a true knowledge of family togetherness and it taught us some labor skills that we'll never forget. Jim, if I didn't know better, I'd think you were my friend or something.
He sat in my class...
Having attained the respectable level of "Head Custodian" in the Tulsa Public, my dad was able to maneuver his career so that he reported to work at the same schools which I attended. This man was so bent on me getting an education that whenever I'd get bad marks, he'd actually come to my class...march right in...and take a seat in the rear of the class. Why, that ole' Jim Crow was so mean to my dad that he made me learn about subjects that were once illegal to be taught to him.
1st day on the job...
After being so kind to me all of my life, Jim Crow showed himself in a real and bitter way when I was about 25 years old. On my 1st day on the job, the very 1st official act that my new boss performed was the following. He walked into his office where I and two other new hires waited and addressed me with the question, "Ronnie! Why do y'all get so mad when someone calls you a boy or a nigger?" I replied with "the same reason y'all get mad when someone calls you a honky or a peckerwood". (Please excuse the use of these outdated colloquialisms). From that day on, the man used everything in his toolbox to oust me from that job. Well, I'm proud to say that after three promotions and a wonderfully blessed 27 year career, I'm still here. Jim, you tried the ole' sucker punch but it didn't work. Sorry!
Because my folks taught me years ago to look way beyond my physical boundaries, I take every opportunity to live and work in a manner that is not limited by the actions of others or by artificial boundaries that we perceive are set by others. Although Jim Crow unjustly beat the tar out of many folks who blazed the trail before me, Jim's baseless cowardice and utter stupidity has unwittingly paved the road to success for so many other Black people like myself. Thanks, Jim, for making us better and no longer bitter.
First Trip Below The Mason-Dixon Line
I grew up in a working class white neighborhood in Philadelphia. My elementary school was one of the first schools to experience bussing. I got to be good friends with many of the African American girls who rode the bus. Our class trip one year was to Washington D.C. As little girls, we were very excited to be taking such a long trip. Sitting on the bus, white and black together, we were chattering away without a care in the world and with much expectation of what we would see in the seat of our national government.
About halfway to D.C. we stopped for a bathroom and snack break. To our surprise we saw signs for "white only" or "colored only" bathrooms. Having never experienced this before, our little group of friends ignored the signs and went to the bathroom. We were met with workers directing us to the "appropriate" bathroom. We were confused, sad, and angered by these laws. We finally got to D.C. and learned about "our freedoms," "justice," and "rights." We had learned a bigger lesson that day about freedom, justice and rights. Some of us had more of these "freedoms" than others. When we got home we began to talk more and more about our trip. "Mom, why couldn't my black friends use the same bathroom as me?" No answer, embarrassment, and shame came from my mother and the other mothers. How could this have happened to innocent children in the 1960s?
Natchitoches , LA
The Word "Nigger"
When I was a child living in Navy housing in Wisconsin, I happened upon a black child playing near his back doorstep. Being curious but ignorant, I asked him, "Are you a nigger?" His mother heard me and came out the door wielding a large knife and angrily told me, "Get away from here." I never told anyone about this experience, but I have been supportive of minority rights since that day.
Grand Rapids, MN
Jim Crow and my Family Values
My father grew up in the Midwest during the depression. His family held on to their land when families around them were losing everything. Most of what they had was inherited and thus they owed no money to the bank. My grandparents were the salt of the earth. They found a way to "hire" people who were put off their land. They hired anyone who would do an honest days work. My father and his brothers and sisters were raised around blacks as well as other ethnic groups who were mistreated by society in this age (Irish and Germans in particular). Everyone belonged to God, and my father was raised to believe that people were all equal in His eyes. My father attended Asbury college and seminary in Kentucky and married my mother.
One day on a trip south, they stopped to eat at a restaurant. My father noticed a black family had pulled their car to the back of the building. Someone walked out and handed them a bag of food. My father inquired and was told that blacks were not allowed to eat inside the establishment. My father told the manager that, "if his restaurant was too good for that nice looking black family, it certainly was too good for a poor young minister and his wife." They left. My father has fought discrimination in his churches from the very beginning. At the last church he served, he welcomed his first black family into one of his churches. He cried. He said that day in the restaurant made a burning impression on him and that he knew that God wanted him to fight this injustice however he could.
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.
Jim Crow at the Water Cooler
I am now 54 years old and I distinctly remember the water fountains in a department store with signs stating white and colored. Of course, I drank out of the white just to see if there was a difference. I must have been between six and eight years old.
R. Anne Clay
Segregation a Shock
I was born and raised in the north in St. Louis, Missouri. As a youngster of five or six, in the summers my mother would take me and my brothers to Mississippi to see my grandmother where we would spend the summer. What a lot of kids only read about I sawthe separate water fountains, bathrooms, and the movie theaters where the balcony was for colored only (still persisted in the early 70s). This was really a shock for me.
Mom always taught us to love and respect everyone. Nothing momma told me could have prepared me for what I saw. Mom also said that I could be anything I wanted, but that I'd have to work three or four times harder to get it, whereas a white person, just being white was their free admission.
St. Paul MN
The Shiny Plastic Letters
I remember a first grade field trip to the Beaman Bottling Plant in Nashville, Tennessee back in 1960 or 1961. We went on the requisite tour of the facility and at the end, we were taken to the lunchroom. Or should I say lunchrooms. There were two doors, both with signs. On one door the sign read "White Lunch." The second door was labeled "Colored Lunch." What really stood out were the shiny plastic letters. "White Lunch" was in white letters on a black background. "Colored Lunch" was in multi-colored letters, also on a black background. Our school didn't have any African-American students so we really didn't understand the way things were. It didn't make sense then, and it certainly doesn't now.
I Sat Where I Wanted to at the Movies
I'm a 45 year-old African-American female and I remember at the age of nine years, in a small town Jackson, Missouri. I spent the night with a family member and on Saturday we went to the movies. We paid for our tickets and I began to reach for the door of the movie theatre and was told by a relative, we can't go in that door; we have to enter through this door. I was then led to a side door and up a very dark, narrow set of stairs. I found myself sitting in the balcony of this movie theatre. The white children were seated below. To this day that memory is with me. I don't remember the movie, but I remember that as if were yesterday. I had never experienced anything like that before. I lived in Cape Girardeau, Missouri and sat where I wanted to at the movies.
Dealing with the Guilt
As a white growing up in Appalachia in the early 60s I was very aware of the segregation of whites and blacks. There was a black high school that taught domestic skills, as opposed to true academics. I also remember my Southern Baptist mother telling me of the black lady that lived near us and how her grandmother had been raped by a white master as a slave, hence her light skin. I also remember the black janitor, Jim, at my grammar school who was the kindest, most gentle person I have ever met. We all loved him dearly and sitting here years later, I almost get choked up thinking of him.
What I'm getting at is that although there was segregation, there was also, by some, a great deal of respect for specific individuals. The darker side is that we did not consider blacks as equals economically or socially, and that is a guilt that many, many still deal with to this day. But in the South, the upper class of whites would not have considered my working class white family as equals. It was a segregated society in ALL respects and we all just accepted it as we knew nothing else.
If I were Black I would be Fighting Mad
I went to the South with my grandmother when I was 12 years old. For the first time I saw that there actually were separate drinking fountains, separate everything for blacks. I was shocked and outraged. I knew if I were black I would be fighting mad. As a child, I didn't know what to do, so when I was in a grocery store I mixed all the brown eggs up with the white eggs in the dairy department while my grandmother shopped. It was the only way I felt I could do something to rebel against the injustice I saw.
This goes out to Ruby Donaldson
When I was a young child in the fifties in Malvern, Arkansas, we had, as so many white families did, a black woman working in our house all day, five days a week. Her name was Ruby Donaldson. My father was killed in a car accident when I was five and two years later my mother became ill with cancer and, after a long illness, died when I was eight.
Ruby was the only constant in our house during that difficult time, a continuous source of love and acceptance. She was humorous, patient, hardworking, generousI really don't know what we would have done without her. Every night we took her home to her house where her children would be waiting to run out and greet her.
Many years later, it finally dawned on me that every day of their childhoods she had left them to care for other people's children. The shame that I felt at that realization has never dissipated, but has grown stronger with the passing years. I loved Ruby as much or more than anyone else in my life, and I owe her and her family a great debt. Unfortunately, she died before I could tell her how much she meant to me.
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.
Municipal Swimming Pool
During my early childhood days in Alamogordo, New Mexico, in the early-to-mid l950s, my grandparents owned and operated the local municipal swimming pool. This was before filtering systems were required and the pool therefore had to be treated with chlorine and other chemicals to maintain the cleanliness of the water. It was also drained once a week and refilled with fresh water.
The sign on the outside of the pool read: Hours 10am to 6pm Tuesday Sat. Colored: Sunday from 1pm-5pm. After 5pm on Sunday, my grandfather would drain the pool (125,000 gal.) and on Monday everyone would grab buckets of liquid chlorine and scrub the entire pool.
I asked my grandfather why we did this, and he said that the colored people were unclean and this would kill any bacteria that they would bring in. I also would ask my grandmother if I could go swimming on Sunday, and she would always tell me no, because that was the time when the "colored folks" could swim and I wasn't allowed to swim with them. This went on till 1957 and at that time the state required the new filtering system and my grandparents closed the pool because of the cost of the new equipment. This was an accepted practice during my early childhood.
Las Cruces, NM
Public Library Segregation
I am a middle class white. I was in grade school in Alexandria, Virginia, during the 50s. When I was growing up, I knew about segregation, but I didn't know the extent of it. It wasn't until the 90s that I learned that, before desegregation, the public library in Alexandria did not admit black people (even though their taxes help support it), and what is worse that there was no separate public library for the black population. As a child, I spent many happy and ignorant hours in that library, and I "learned", because they did not use the library, that African-Americans had no interest in intellectual pursuits. Such lessons that are intuited through ignorance, lessons that are not taught but that come through osmosis, can be the most damaging and insidious.
I spent my childhood life growing up in the "projects." When I was around 12 years old I took my first job away from home. The job was "helper" for a driver on a soft drink bottling company truck route. Of course, all delivery route drivers were white. The route consisted of delivering bottled drinks to "country stores" in rural North Carolina. My job was to collect the empty glass bottles, put them in the wooden crates, sort them by product, and put them on the truck.
The driver would deliver the fresh product and perform the traditional hospitality conversations with the local storeowners.
One day the truck pulled up to a small store somewhere in a rural community and I heard this frightening barrage of barking, obviously from at least two large dogs. The barking came directly from the rear area where the "empties" were stored. I looked at the driver in heart wrenching fear and asked, "What's that?" He proceeded to deliver to me what he probably thought was a completely obligatory lesson. "Those are Nigger Dogs. Now you be careful not ta git too close to 'em, ya hear!" I sat still and confused in the passenger seat, almost unable to move from fear. He then looked me straight in the eye and asked, "You're a nigger, ain't cha?" Being only 12 years old and probably over 50 miles from anywhere recognizable in the countryside, I responded the only way I could, "Yes sir. I guess I am." And that was one of my first practical lessons in the subtleties of Jim Crow and rural Southern culture.
Grand Rapids, MI
Growing Up White in Texas
I am white, and grew up outside of Houston in the 1950s and 1960s. Jim Crow was still strong, but my parents taught me that racism and segregation were wrong, so I learned at an early age that the accepted way of doing things is not always the right way to do it.
I went to segregated schools until my senior year in high school, in 1966. Every morning, while I waited for the school bus (we lived in the country), I watched our neighbor Mr. Mitchell drive by in one of our school buses. It took me several years to figure out that the reason Mr. Mitchell didn't pick us up (he kept the bus at home) was because he was driving into Alvin to pick up all the black children to take them to the "colored" schools down the road in Dickinson. The Alvin schools only integrated in 1966 because Dickinson closed its separate and unequal high school.
I remember the little things, like the first time I realized that the gas station where we did business had three restrooms: women, men and "colored." I recall being particularly appalled (I was about 11) that the "colored" restrooms weren't separated by gender. It seemed very rude to make women and men use the same restroom.
Because our school had no black students, a lot of racist attitudes were directed at Mexican-Americans. Some of the teenagers would always say, when two Mexican-American girls got on the bus toward the end of the route, when seats were few, "Don't let those Mexicans sit down." I did, though, when I could.
What really gets me about all this is that it wasn't that long ago. I remember it and I know the people who helped change it. My father, a reporter, got to know the black attorney (George Washington) who represented Freedom Riders in Houston, and he came to our home with his family. I found out that he was the first black graduate of the University of Texas Law School. He still practices law in Houston.
I also know the first black woman licensed to practice law in Texas: Charlye Farris, who was admitted in 1953. I've tried cases against her. She still practices as well.
There were three black students in my law school class at the University of Texas in 1975, out of 500 students. It goes without saying that they were all over-achievers. Things may have been changing by then, but the change was still going slowly.
I came of age as things changed. While we still have a lot of problems growing out of race, we have made progress. Having grown up in Texas, I am sure that if the men who killed James Byrd a few years ago had committed that crime in the 1950s, they wouldn't have even been arrested. I suspect they thought that culture still existed, but fortunately we have made a few strides along the way.
Nancy Jane Moore
I Never got Arrested I got Dirty Looks
I grew up in New York City. Relatives in Miami Beach, Florida had a daughter my age and the families got us together. When we were about ten, she came to New York to visit then I went to Miami during school holiday. We were in a Woolworth's and I went to take a drink of water at the fountain. My friend was horrified and stopped me because there was a sign that said "colored." She said I had to drink out of the other fountain, that read, "white." I remember being horrified, angry and totally outraged. I couldn't understand why there was a difference. I remember telling her I was going to drink out of it anyway and she started crying, that we would be arrested for drinking out of the "colored" fountain. That scared me (I was only 10 or 11) and I didn't do it. But I remember asking her parents about it (although I don't remember what they said) and then telling mine when I got home, and I swore I'd never do that again. And I didn't. Each time I traveled to the South I would make a point of drinking from the "colored" fountain. I never got arrested although I did get dirty looks, which made me feel proud.
Discrimination in upstate NY in the 50s
I remember the house being built next door to ours in the tract housing boom of the fifties where blacks were employed for the construction. Being about 6 or 7 years old, digging was a fascination and so were blacks, not having many if any, in our area, so my sister and I were always watching. My mother went over to the men and explained that she put out metal cups over our back yard water faucet for them to get water from as they worked. They thanked her and made use of the cups during the work. Neighbors asked my mother why she did that, what was she going to do with the cups after they were done, etc... and one neighbor was very upset by it. Angry words were exchanged. As a young child, I didn't understand why they asked her those questions or got angry and this led to the first of many discussions at the dinner table about discrimination and what that word meant. I was worried for my parents but proud at the same time and I still am, proud, that is for they walked to the tune of their hearts and not what others thought of them. They still do.
If you use this on the air, please don't mention names. The city was Utica, New York and it was 1958. Thank you for the show; it brought back a flood of memories.
Church trip to St. Louis
I was a pre-teen in the early 60s. We were traveling by bus from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to St. Louis, Missouri to attend a youth church conference. Somewhere in southern Illinois we decided to take a rest stop and get something to eat. This place seemed like a major rest area, as there was plenty of parking and lots of cars. Upon entering the establishment we were told they could not serve us in the restaurant and that we should go around to the back. Being from Milwaukee I had never experienced anything like this and remember feeling both angry and humiliated.
Jim Crow lesson learned early
As a wide-eyed, brown-skinned six-year-old in 1963, I was denied access to a public movie theater in Louisville, Kentucky when my younger brothers and I went to see a Disney movie accompanied by our black-skinned, non-English-speaking nanny. I was the oldest English speaker in our group, and remember being told that no 'N-WORD' was allowed into the theater. I still remember that old man's face, craggy and wrinkly and most of all MEAN! Later that day, my parents tried to gently explain the harsh realities of the world to me. But what really delivered the message was that from that point on, I began to notice how some of the other parents in the neighborhood spoke about black people. A real eye-opener for a small child!
Although I was generally afforded the "privileges" of white society, there were varying degrees of unfriendly comments and actions directed toward me until I left Kentucky in 1985.
I grew up in southern Florida (Miami and Miami Beach). I have vivid memories as a child during the 1950s of being very disturbed that the "colored" children had shack schools, filthy public drinking fountains and had to live behind a big wall in downtown Miami. Adult people of color were not allowed on the streets of our white neighborhood without an identification card. If they were around after dark they were at risk of being abducted by high school boys on a "coon hunt." Black performers in Miami Beach hotels were not allowed to eat with the guests, use the pool or the hotel amenities. Now, when I hear Caucasians deride "p.c.", political correctness, I am very angry at the joke some white people have made of the civil rights struggle. I am quick to remind them that when I was a child, segregation and all the danger and degradation that went with it, was very, very "p.c.".
Black Family in White Public
This story comes from my father's childhood in the great depression. We are an old white farm family in a small rural New England town. There were less then 200 people then. My grandparents had an extra small house that they let a black family stay in for free. The two families worked side by side in the fields and woods. The two families lived as one so much that my grandparents never gave it a second thought when they took the black family with them to the town 4th of July picnic. Both my grandparents and the black family were stoned until they left the picnic. The black family only stayed one more season before moving on. Dad said their leaving was like half the family had gone.
Jim Crow is Alive and Well in the South
Jim Crow is still there, but more subtle, gone sideways, so to speak. I am the mother in a biracial family. We lived (probably unwisely) for 9 years in southwest Virginia/ NE Tennessee. We visited local restaurants with our whole family. Over and over in large franchises we were left to wait, our orders were lost, or mistaken. Hours would pass and everyone else would be eating and our order would still not come. One time after waiting nearly an hour in a fast food place, the waitress brought the children (both black) the wrong orders.(One was even allergic to the cheese sandwich they brought) When we objected, she said, "Oh, make them eat it, they won't mind." When we objected to the manager, we were told we were unreasonable. When we mentioned that this seemed like racial treatment, we were told the waitress "Loved blacks," and "we had upset her." There were many other stories from friends and we slowly learned which restaurants not to visit. It is just more difficult to spot, even if we can use the same bathroom.
Jo Ann Rosenfeld
(now in) Baltimore, MD
My mother tells a story of when I was born in 1964, my father and mother came back from the hospital in Asheboro, NC on NC-49 from Asheboro to Ramseur and my mother asked my father to stop and get my bottle warmed up at a diner called The Blue Mist. This was important in that up until that time, my father had worked there. (There is a picture of him with an order of food, which he was taking to a black person in the back of the store, a sign above his head says "colored entrance.") On the way home with me, my mother wanted my dad to go to the front counter and ask a person there to warm my bottle up for me. My dad went inside and the person on the other side of the counter said yes. My bottle was warmed and we went on our way as my mother tells the story. My mother also still has that picture of my dad at the back door so that we never forget.
Marcus C. Staley II
Mindset of Jim Crow Alive and Well
I am a 35 year-old female that lives in the mid-west. Please do not think that the Jim Crow way of thinking has stopped. Two years ago I went into a restaurant with a large group of women. I counted one other Black person in the crowded restaurant. The waitress waited on me last and I was the last one in the group to be served my water, burger and fries. I am able to eat at a restaurant, but the mindset of Jim Crow is still alive and well.
I Never Paid Attention to Signs on Buildings
I am Puerto Rican American, my color is mulatto, with straight black hair. My experience was in the small city of Gulfport, Mississippi. I was visiting my friend at the Naval base; I was not enlisted. We went to a bar. I, being from New York, never paid attention to signs on buildings. I went in the wrong entrance and was asked, Who was I? Where from? and if I lived there. I looked at my friend John, we asked each other (in Spanish), What is this about? John reminded me that we were in the Deep South. He wanted no problems, he could get in trouble back at the base. So we told the man we were visiting Greek solders that were in Gulfport for special training. The man at the counter then asked if we would move to the rear…as he didn't want to hear it from the locals, so we complied.
Beach Lake, PA
The Other Side of the Tracks
In 1955, my family moved from the North (Hyde Park, NY) to a Florida coastal town. We are white. Through this town ran a railroad track. The Blacks were on the inland side and the whites on the ocean side. They were not allowed to cross the "tracks" unless they had a specific reason and never to go to the beach. Our white neighbors had businesses on the "other side of the tracks" and farms to raise produce. Their employees were the blacks, who lived in "shanties" on the farm. Our neighbor that owned the grocery store on the black side carried a pistol and everyone knew it. He also had a whip in his Cadillac, which he was known to use on the blacks who worked for him.
Our family was shocked by what we saw for the 4 years we lived there. My father had a business and this one black man who worked with him would take me fishing where the blacks went and where the big fish were. I was the only white kid there. He was a fine man and our family's friend. But our neighbors would make fun of us for having a "niggeroe" for a friend. We did not care.
I have many memories of that time and have thought of writing them down. They are simply unbelievable.
In 1994, while on a business trip, I returned to this town to see if it could possibly have changed. To some extent it had, but it was still very evident that the change was to the letter of the law and not the spirit. Jim Crow is still alive, he just isn't as obvious.
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.
Jim Crow in Philadelphia
I was the oldest child in a family headed by my single mother. I had three younger sisters, the oldest of which was four years younger than I. We lived in a housing project in South Philly. Next-door was a white family who became friends of our family. The oldest son of that family had an after school job in a dry goods store. When he left that job to go to high school, he recommended me to the owner of the store. I went in to work with him one day to learn the ropes. I was to go to the store the next day to start work. When I arrived, I was told that they didn't hire Negroes and was given trolley car fare to take me back home. I was very disappointed; the money from the job would have helped at home.
I tried to figure a way to show that the store's policy about Negroes was wrong. I remembered that every semester in my school, there was an award given by the Point Breeze Businessmen's Association for the most outstanding graduating student that semester, and that the owner of the dry goods store made the presentation of the award as the president of that association. (Point Breeze Avenue was a shopping area in Philadelphia at the time). I made up my mind to work toward winning that award and by graduation had earned enough points to win. Imagine my satisfaction and pride when my name was announced at graduation, and I went up on the stage to have my certificate and medallion personally handed to me by the same man who just the semester before denied me the job in his store.
How I learned what discrimination was really like
Growing up in an ethnically and religiously mixed neighborhood in a Northern city, I felt oppressed and belittled when things happened such as being told that I would not have been given the lifeguard job if they had known I was Jewish. I was told my acceptance into a fraternity would have to be rescinded because they learned I was Jewish. However, when I was sent by the Air Force to Montgomery in the 50s I got to see what prejudice really was about. I was amazed by the two drinking fountains in front of the public buildings (one for colored); the separate waiting rooms at the bus stations; and the signs stating that no niggers were allowed. This changed my concept of what oppression really meant and wondered how the Black people could possibly handle such abuse with such apparent acceptance, realizing what I had experienced as a white person. It made me admire their strength and hope even more for an end to Jim Crow.
Granite Bay, CA
Jim Crow and South Central Oklahoma
It wasn't until I was in college that I realized my hometown of Healdton, Oklahoma had a Jim Crow law on its books. Growing up in the late 1950s and early 1960s I saw that black folk worked in Healdton but didn't live there. But no one said why. As I child I presumed that people lived where they wanted to live and worked where they wanted to work.
Ironically, I believe that growing up in south central Oklahoma during Jim Crow was a liberating event for me. As a white kid I never heard slang words for anyone of color or ethnic background because there was no one of color around to slam. I saw people as people. Only later did I hear those words when I moved to the county seat of Ardmore as a junior in high school during desegregation. By then I knew that there was something inherently wrong with separating people because of their color or ethnic background.
Sand Springs, OK
A young, white stranger in the Deep South
In 1962, the US Navy sent me to Meridian Miss. to serve at the new Naval Air Training Station there and wait for an opening at the Navy's training center at Memphis Tenn.
It was my first time in the Deep South.
I was from a border state, (KY) and an area where few blacks lived. I couldn't believe how blacks were treated there. A few years later I wrote this poem:
I don't know much about blacks,
I wasn't raised around them.
My contemporaries were suspicious of them.
They said that all the niggers wanted to do was play ball and screw white girls.
I never considered that a legitimate prejudice, since it's all any of us wanted to do then.
I came close to blacks for the first time while in the service in Mississippi.
It was the early 1960s, and a bad place to be of color.
Blacks there had no status, and no property. Worse yet, they had no identity.
There was slavery at Meridian in 1962.
They allowed themselves to be owned by their white employers and I heard them receiving their menial work instructions beginning with, "hey nigger."
I felt ashamed for all of humanity and knew that the bloody struggle that followed was imminent, and right.
Charles M. Whitt
South Shore, KY
When the sit-ins started in my town, I was a teenager. I had already seen that segregation and discrimination was irrational but had no idea of being part of the movement.
In my hometown was Kentucky State College (University now), which was a Negro College. That term seems so offensive now but that's what it was called then. Students from the college would sit-in at the Woolworth's lunch counter and then they began to sit-in at the restaurant where my friends and I would go after school for cokes and socializing.
Every day after school, there was a young black man sitting at a table near the front of that restaurant. He always wore a suit and never said a word to anyone as he waited to be acknowledged. The table where he sat did not seem to exist for the rest of the people there, but it was the first place my eyes went. I'm not sure how long this went on, but finally I impulsively decided to do something about it. I ordered a hamburger, French fries and a coke. When they came, I got up from my booth and took them over and set them in front of the young man. We never exchanged a single word.
As far as I know blacks were served at that restaurant from that day forward.
I would like to believe that I would have the courage to do that today if it were required of me, but the truth is, I had no idea of the full implications of what I had done.
I had not acted out of courage, but out of shame. I felt dishonored by the treatment of that young man and I was right because I have learned since then that anything that dishonors one person, dishonors all people.
Thank you for the opportunity to share this story.
Ann Jay Bryan
Growing up White
In my rural central Florida town (pre-Disney), I knew only two black people. One was the man who did our yard; I have the mower. Here is a poem I wrote (and have published) in his honor.
Elegy for E.K. Worthy
I drag the lawnmower from the garage.
One wheel needs oil. The blades
tick in the grass, and
I grip your grip in the handle.
Back then, before you'd pass out
among the rakes and empty gas cans
in the back of the panel truck,
spilling cheap gin from the Mason jar,
your boozy lips mumbled scraps of spells
some ancestor carried from Africa.
Your arms lifted, your eyes closed.
You said he was a tribal chief.
Every man who bought or sold him
died of fever within six weeks.
But those incantations just made me
half-drunk. I already knew about
the Saturday nights on Pine Street,
switchblades flicking in dim yellow funnels
of streetlight, because one Sunday
our back stoop creaked under your tale
of bolita, women, and steel.
Starched for Sunday school,
I tried out of shame or fear
to finish breakfast without staring
at the cut strung across your chest
like fresh plastic beads.
You died of the high blood-
too much drink, pork fat,
jumbled fury clotting the veins.
Now you're free up there,
nothing to mow, no hussy to beat,
and I pray the gin is Gilbey's,
the barbecue so lean and piquant
the halo buzzes on your Harvester cap.
You passed the jar but I didn't drink,
you cast the spell but it didn't take.
When you look down, sleek and content,
on a world that measured you yard by yard,
Chants from the Schoolyard
I started elementary school in 1963 in Asheville, North Carolina. It was segregated and many whites vocalized and put in to print that blacks had everything that they needed and could not understand why blacks wanted to go to school with white children.
The science labs, reading material, and audio-visual equipment as it was called at that time was greatly inferior. I saw what were called filmstrips at the "colored" elementary school that I attended. When integration took place in the mid 1960s, out of the blue, came science equipment and, as it was called back then, moving or motion films.
I remember vividly a chant that white students would sing when standing outside of Aycock Elementary School when black children from the Burton Street area of West Asheville began attending that school when integration was implemented. The words were:
Bonnie and Clyde
Were sitting by the river
Eating chocolate liver
Along came a nigger
And pushed them in the river
I'm grateful that I had a family and a community that stood fast and weathered the storm.
Growing Up in Tennessee in the 1950s
I was born in 1950, in a small town in middle Tennessee. I am white, and when I heard the interviews with older white people in Louisiana, I felt their experiences were very different from the few I had with black people in the 1950s and 60s. For one thing, there were not many black people in my hometown, and except for one family, they all lived outside the city limits in an area referred to politely as "colored town," and less so as "nigger town." As I remember, I was completely unaware that there was a "colored" school there and that they were bused to a high school in the next county until, as it was said, they burned the one-room wooden schoolhouse down one night in 1963. That's how integration finally came to my hometown, and my first year in high school in 1964 was the first time I'd ever gone to school with black children.
Though my contacts with black people before this were few, one experience stands out in my memory. When I was 9 years old, my father, who worked for a road construction company, had a short-term job in another town. I don't know the circumstances, but there were 2 or 3 black workers. I remember vividly that one Sunday evening when we were driving to the other town to spend the week, my father gave one of the local black men who worked on the same job a ride. I remember talking to this man in the back seat. I probably remember this incident because he was black, but at the time I only remember enjoying talking to him.
After I got older and saw movies and documentaries about racism in the South, I often wondered how this could have happened. Was Tennessee different? Probably not, since I also remember my father telling me that one town he worked in, in east Tennessee would not allow black people to set foot in the city limits. I remember my father treating his black co-worker who rode with us with the same respect that he treated anyone else I ever saw him with. I remember other times going with my father to "colored town" to see different people about work. I don't know if the road crew was integrated on an equal basis in 1959, and I do know that my parents were not civil rights liberals. But they never said anything racist that I can recall, and they never did anything to encourage racism in me. I will always be grateful to them for that.
The Indirect Effect of Jim Crow
Because I am only twenty-one years of age, I must say that I was never directly affected by the realities of Jim Crow. However, previous generations - my parents, my parents' parents and further back, existed in the turmoil that was Jim Crow. I have long heard the universal stories of separate water fountains, eateries, and sections in movie theaters, beaches, and parks. Strangely enough when I hear these accounts of inequality, there does not appear to be anger in the voices of my family members. There is no anger but rather hints of sadness and frustration. My grandmother would often shake her head while recounting having to walk in the street so that whites could walk on the sidewalk. My father remembers no longer having the desire to play basketball (a sport in which he was All-American) when the schools integrated because the white players were given priority over the black players. So, while directly I have not been affected, I have suffered the memories of those I love whose voices still tend to rise slightly higher and eyes sometimes mist when remembering Jim Crow.
Chapel Hill, NC
Jim Crow In Paducah, KY
As a teenager growing up in Paducah, Kentucky (1961) segregation was much the same here as in other towns. Though not as severe as lynchings, it still existed in the manner of where you could go, not go, where you could eat, using the side door for the movies, one restroom for blacks downtown (nasty) and just being separated. Blacks, however, dealt with it and strived for the most part. They were owners of hotels, poolrooms, cab operations, blacksmith shops, doctors / dentists, and of course bars.
My most profound note of racism came during my 13th year of age. Having been raised with a father that coached baseball, the sport was in my blood. After completing the integrated league competition (Little League), the next move was to play in the Pony League. Excitement was abound as we tried out, the former All-Stars from Barkley Park, but to our dismay none were given the call after try-outs. Disappointed, we turned to the Boy's Club, under Oscar Cross's direction, in the formation of a baseball league at the then all-black 10th Street Park. We had fun, and the play was good.
My younger brother, however, played like Jackie Robinson in the integrated Barkley Park League, under the direction of John Sheppard (white) who thought it not robbery to have the races mix. As a three-time All-Star from age 10 to 12, Gerald Barnette won games for his team in all manner of fashion, and left the league with so many honors that it would take a page to list. He, too, though ran smack dab into the Jim Crow situation at the next juncture of baseball for this area.
That's when our mother, the late Fannie Francis (Williams) Barnette wrote a searing letter to the editor asking the question of why her son who'd out performed every player chosen in the draft at the Pony League level couldn't play now. The editor of the Paducah Sun, to his credit, published the letter, and pushed for an answer to the question. It was found out that the lady (Jetta Raper) that owned the property on which the Pony League field was situated, had made a stipulation that "no blacks" were to be allowed to play on this particular diamond. As it turned out, though, the publicity was enough that the league relinquished, and Gerald was allowed, as well as others, to play, he became an All-Star at that level, leading his team to the Pony League World Series in both years of competition.
My mother, though long past, made an imprint on the segregated baseball arena in Paducah, Kentucky. A lasting one. And that was the first profound experience that I had in dealing with Jim Crow as a teenager - a coming of age. And a lesson that has kept the fire inside me burning to rid my community, country of all types of differences - whether race, gender, age, disability or religion. To God be the Glory!!!
Cecil J Barnette
While They Struggled, We Were Unaware
I was raised in the segregated South, in Panama City, Florida, and graduated from high school in 1959. My parents were better educated than others in their families and also most of their friends. They did not exhibit any prejudice or make derogatory remarks or put down any of the African-Americans we ever came in contact with, BUT they never stood up for integration nor did they go to the trouble of educating us three children about people such as Ralph Bunche and just how wonderful a man he was.
I was introduced to Ralph Ellison and other black writers (my parents were both avid readers) but nothing was made of their race. Every time I heard an unkind or derogatory remark regarding a colored person (as they were called back then...unless someone really low-down used the N word) my parents always waited until we were in private and would say to not pay any attention to the person using this kind of language or statement... "things will be different in your time".
My mother was scared to death of the KKK and I remember on several occasions she would say "the Klan is gonna burn a cross in our yard if anyone hears us take up for the negroes". But I feel so deprived at thinking that George Washington Carver was the only black person who ever accomplished anything...outside music, dance or sports. He was the only person I ever remember that was mentioned in ANY textbook during my school years. I was so intrigued that I went to the town library and checked out my first biography to learn more about this "colored" person. When any black received any acclaim for any achievement other than music or sports it was always said "he must have white blood in him to accomplish that!"
I'm trying to make up for lost time by reading everything available pertaining to the era I grew up in and missed so much. I travel with my husband who is a Merchant Marine Chief Engineer all over the world and we have been fortunate enough to visit Africa...East and West. Also, we had our own charter business and taught sailing here in South Florida and have had many visitors who enhanced our knowledge of perceptions of African Americans. One really shocking incident was a couple from South Africa that "did not realize that apartheid was all that bad". It reminds me that we who grew up during segregation did not realize the struggles and bravery of the African-Americans. While they struggled, we were unaware. I am ashamed.
Sue Carol Elvin
Fort Lauderdale, FL
I remember well growing up in Houston, Texas when it only had two tall buildings, the Gulf building and the Neils-Esperson building. I rode a city bus from a green, wind-brushed neighborhood in the inner city to a public school. One always knew who was continuing downtown for the women had hats and gloves, and the men had suits. I was at a speech tournament at Reagan High the day that John Kennedy was shot. We all moved out into the soft rain, around the flagpole and stood quietly. The only sound I could hear was the soft crying of a black woman in the stairwell.
Only then did I realize how naive I had been! No blacks at Austin High, no Latinos, and the first Jew was Jon Goldenbaum, who was well liked by all. I collected golf balls at a golf course on Lawndale set diagonally from the Villa de Matel Convent. Again, no blacks, Latinos or Jews in that club or at any bank.
And the city was controlled by so few men, you could name them! Judge Elkins, Jesse Jones, Roy Hoffeinz etc. It was scary for me. How much more so it must have been for the black man that saved me from drowning in Viet Nam or my Jewish friend Ehud Caspi who had to go back to Israel to serve in the army, and for all the Latinos, long before ESL education. How naive I was, how naive I am now, hopefully in some different area. God bless the men and women who make it in the United States!
Kansas City, MO
Jim Crow on the Job, 1965-1966
In 1965 I started work as a laborer at the old Firestone tire factory in Memphis, TN. When the usual winter slowdown began I was given the choice of taking a layoff or working in what was called the compound room. I needed the income and took the transfer but I wondered why the personnel manager seemed skeptical about my choice.
When I reported for work I found that I was the third Caucasian in a group of about 60 men. The other two were the manager and a supervisor. Soon, the Caucasian headcount dropped back to two...because I became, for about nine hours each workday, a black man. Literally black.
The compound room, where raw materials were mixed to make rubber for tires, was the most dismal workplace I've ever seen. Huge quantities of finely ground carbon black were used in the mixture. The carbon dust saturated the atmosphere, cut visibility to about 30 feet and coated everything in the vicinity, including the workers. It adhered like paint and after an hour on shift, my African American co-workers and I were indistinguishable. It would take at least 45 minutes in the showers to get this off.
Jim Crow was in full force in this plant. Separation of lunchrooms, restrooms and drinking fountains was rigidly enforced with signs indicating "Colored" and "White". Raised in Maryland, I wasn't accustomed to this but understood that I had to observe it. (The difference in Maryland was that racial segregation was so deeply ingrained that it required no labels for colored and white. Instead, in Maryland you saw "Restricted" signs, meaning no Jews allowed.)
On my first day in the compound room I went to the "white" lunchroom. I was covered in carbon black. Another worker, obviously convinced that I was an African American, told me I had to leave because that room was for whites only. When I stood up, the table and bench were filthy with carbon black. I left and the next day I ate in the "colored" area. This wasn't an air-conditioned lunchroom such as that provided for whites. It was a couple of picnic benches jammed under a filthy stairway.
The white folks may have thought I was colored, but the black folks knew I wasn't. They all crowded at one table while I ate alone at the other. After several weeks of this, one or two gradually began to talk to me and eat at the same lunch table.
The work was filthy, brutal and dangerous. Numerous toxic chemicals were used but the workers were given no protection. I learned that the company had a man specifically assigned to tear poison labels off of chemical containers as they arrived at the back dock. They didn't want the workers to see them. We weren't fooled. We knew we were being exposed to poisons but emphysema, liver rot and cancer were long-term problems -- we needed the job, the paycheck right then.
This being a union shop, it was customary for most workers in other parts of the plant to take the last 30 minutes of their shift to wash up and relax before clocking out. In the compound room we black folks were forced to work right up to the end of the shift, then clock out and clean up on our own time.
One night I was cleaning debris from the trapdoor of a large mixing machine called a Banberry. I was suddenly jerked out of the opening by the back of my belt. My African American supervisor, trembling with a mixture of fear and anger, pointed at the status light on the machine. It had turned green while I was inside, meaning the machine had been switched to active by the operator who, returning from break, couldn't see me in harms way. It was my mistake; I had not tagged the machine controls. The supervisor saved my life. To those of us who worked for him, he was Mr. Ivy. To those who thought of themselves as white, he was just Ivy. Or worse.
For a month or so, most of the workers had little to say to me. They would show me how to do certain tasks and do them safely. These were things they learned on their own and taught each other because the company took little responsibility for their safety. Otherwise, most of the workers kept their distance. It took a while for me to be much more than a burden to them because the skills and speed required took time to develop. Basically, they carried me and helped me survive in a job that otherwise would have been available for a black man. I didn't really understand that fact and its implications until long afterwards.
I needed the paycheck, so I needed the job and I, like everyone else, did what I could to get to the end of each weary day. After a while, the other workers loosened up a bit and I'd be included in some of their casual conversation. I began to fit in - kind of. One thing never changed. After work, after a long scrub in the showers, I walked away, a Caucasian returning to a Caucasian world. The other men just went from one dark world into another. That was another thing that I didn't understand until long afterwards.
After a few months, a kindly older man called "Preacher" began to explain things to me. He said that there were still a few of the workers who didn't like having a white guy in their ranks and wouldn't have anything to do with me. Others started out suspicious but had begun to think I'd be OK. I asked why they'd be suspicious or resentful. (I was really that ignorant.) He told me that, for one thing, I didn't have to actually work like they did; that being white, I could have sat it out in the supervisor's office, pushing paper around and running errands. I told him that no one had ever told me that. He replied "You're not from around here or else you'd know it without being told." He then explained that I needed to be careful because my eating in the "colored" lunch area with "colored" people would not go unnoticed by certain white folks.
The next year production volume resumed and I was moved from the compound room to the tire room where the workers were all Caucasian. I didn't ask for the move - I was just ordered to do it. I noticed none of the African American workers, all of whom had seniority over me, were transferred out of that hellhole.
I then began building tires on the third shift. For about 60 days after I left the compound room, black pimples would erupt on my chest and back. This was the carbon black I had ingested working its way out of my system. The company nurse said it was normal and would stop after a while. I gradually stopped leaving a gray shadow on my bed sheets and pillowcase.
About 2 a.m. one morning a big, surly security guard packing a huge pistol on his hip slipped up beside my tire machine.
GUARD: Ainchoo 'at boy usta eat w' them niggers?
GUARD: You in that N-double-A-CP?"
GUARD: You one a them gummint boys?"
GUARD: FBI, civil rights, any a' them kind?"
The interrogation concluded with the advice that further provocations would result in violent consequences.
I quit in 1966 and I was out of the compound room for good. But the compound room has never been out of me.
It's been 36 years and the carbon black washed off long ago. But the spiritual experience of being black, even in that brief and minor way, is indelible.
God save the men who could not walk away.
KiziManitou's (God's) Children
My heart hurts so much when I connect and feel the history of abuse that is the legacy of the black population here on Turtle Island (America).
My spirit is filled with wonder at the courage and determination that Black people and others have shown in their attempts to overthrow Jim Crow in the past and its on-going shadow in the present.
When I read the accounts of black life, so many aspects are similar to life as a native person after 1492 contact.
We too have dealt with segregation, racism, movie theaters with "Indian balconies", "No Indians allowed signs" and racially motivated abuse and murder.
Thank-you for hearing my voice, which is too often silenced.
All My Relations.
Marcelle Marie Gareau
I came over from England in 1957 and went to live in a small town in Texas. I was 19 years old and I had lived in a town in Wiltshire that had no black people other than a few American servicemen.
I was invited by a neighbor to go with her to a laundromat. This was a new experience to me since we had none where I came from. I went in and saw "Whites Only" I thought that meant clothes so I put the whites in the machines on that side and the dark clothes on the other side, reasoning that there must a difference in the temperature of the water. My neighbor asked why I didn't get all my washers together and I told her that we were supposed to put our white clothes in the other side since there was a sign there. Not understanding what I was talking about she went around and read the sign and said, "That means people."
I was shocked that anyone could be so rude and she was shocked that I didn't know what the sign meant. I have never forgotten the awful sorrow I felt that day for the black people. I later experienced other insults. The little water fountain basins on the wall announcing COLORED right next to a tall refrigerated cooler marked WHITES ONLY and the three toilet doors in the store blue for white males, pink for white women and one brown door marked COLORED which was to accommodate both male and female. The small portion of the counter in the dime store snack bar, maybe two stools and all the rest were reserved for whites. Also the clerks in the local department stores would only wait on a black customer if a white one was not waiting. If a white customer did appear, the clerk would break off from the black customer and serve the white person. Then there were the buses with just a few seats behind a white line.
Thank goodness my husband went back in the Air Force and we moved about and lived on base quarters with both black and white people who were treated with equality. I am glad that our grandchildren are not being raised with the segregation mindset that was around thirty years ago. We still have a long way to go but hopefully we will get there one day.
Segregation in Maryland
When I was 11 years old (1962) our family traveled to Washington D.C. for vacation. When we stopped at a roadside restaurant I noticed a sign in the glass door that read, "Whites only." I asked my father what that meant and he said that Negroes were not allowed in there. I asked him why but he never answered me. I think he was as surprised as I was but I never forgot it. It was the closest I ever came to experiencing firsthand the reality of segregation. I am white and attended school all my life with black and white children.
Lasting Legacy of Jim Crow
Jim Crow left an imprint on my very being that causes me a flash of anxiety when going into any new situation even now at age 54. For the first twelve years of my life, I experienced the separateness dictated by Jim Crow. In every aspect of life, its presence controlled our experience. My parents tried desperately to shield us from the reality of its meaning. My mother insisted that her choice of seat was the one in the back of the bus. When I wanted to eat in a store downtown, she insisted that we had food at home. We lived a colored life, in a colored neighborhood, attending colored schools and being entertained in colored theaters.
We traveled with food and a little pot to use because there were few facilities available to us. I had loving teachers and extended supervision, in a time that no one was afraid to discipline an erring child who was not their own. 1960 brought major changes in the life of our city and that of our family.
The City Council of Richmond, to forestall the inevitable court order to integrate the schools, picked two students to integrate one school. They could then point to the fact that Richmond schools were integrated, with the certainty that, having satisfied the letter of the law, they would be left alone by the courts. I was one of those two students. I was twelve. At the same time, the Negroes (we had morphed from being colored) were boycotting all stores with restaurant and restroom facilities that would not serve us.
The experience of integrating the schools was a five-year odyssey through daily fear. I discovered that there was an expressed belief in contamination, so great as to foul someone sitting in a chair I had occupied. An inadvertent touch brought screams and pleadings for help from the assaulted to their friends to brush off the offending ...what-I do not know.
I was given textbooks that described the happy slave, who was of course well cared for; had not a worry in the world, since unemployment was of no concern and food, clothing and shelter were provided by kindly, benevolent masters. My US History teacher told the class that Lincoln had not committed any kindness by freeing the slaves, as they were unprepared to care for themselves.
Teachers expressed their open derision; guidance counselors wrote unsolicited letters to colleges referring to me as "it". When I won one of six school wide spots to present my science project at the VA Junior Academy of Science at UVA, I had to stay in a different hotel from the other four boys and one girl.
My greatest personal fear was that I would let down my community. People who had seen our pictures in the paper would come up to us in public and say, "We are counting on you... to show them, to change their attitudes, to transform the state of race relations, to demonstrate our humanity. This was heavy pressure for at twelve year old who expected her grades to be published in the newspaper.
The city too endured many changes. Gradually the outward trappings of segregation began to fade. Have conditions changed? Yes, but no.
Just a couple of years ago, whites fought to keep a statue of Arthur Ashe from being erected on Monument Avenue, the traditional avenue of confederate monuments. One principal was found to have segregated her classes within a school, so that white students could be with their own kind.
It is my perception that White people continue to operate with the certainty that Blacks will concede the right of way; the spot in line; the last remaining item for purchase; the service of the merchant; whatever, anything and everything. Even white children have an attitude that demands that I will move off the sidewalk to accommodate their walking together several abreast, even though they are students and I am a school administrator. To say that Jim Crow and its lingering cloud no longer exist or that it is not relevant to life today reflects a white delusion.
I survived and succeeded but there remains a hangover. It is the expectation - no the worry in every new situation - that I will be rejected because of my blackness. I am always reluctant, internally to go into a new restaurant or bank or marina or any public facility for fear that they will not be prepared for my presence and will consequently, reject me. Let no one say it is over so just forget it. It lingers in the minds and hearts of many. It has forever scarred its victims. Only the untouched are incapable of knowing its destructive power.
Jim Crow: Forgetting it is Accepting it
I am African American, born in Louisiana in 1938 and moved to California in 1948. The effect of Jim Crow and discrimination continues in various forms, often very subtle, but always as damaging. I will forgive, but I will not forget, or surrender Jim Crow and discrimination.
Additionally, being urged to not draw on the past, to not belabor the problem of what happened in the past, and so on is an insult to our intellect.
Millions of African Americans who are alive today were, and still are, adversely impacted and affected by Jim Crow and other forms of discrimination. I view ignoring that past as a surrender --- capitulation; forgetting it is as much as accepting it.
The impacts on us will continue until we all gain a better understanding of the concept of time and discontinue thinking that there is no connection between the past and the present.
Each and every human being is made up of their experience and, to forget those experiences is to dehumanize --- to deprive one of humanness, of being.
How do I see the legacy of Jim Crow?
Hello, my name is Trevor Stewart. I grew up in the Bahamas, and when I came to this country, even though I was born here, I didn't know much about what black people went through. I am black, and being black in the Bahamas and being black in America are totally different experiences. Everything I know now about black American history I had to learn. From Martin Luther King to Malcolm X.
I've never really fit into "black America" even though I've experienced the effects of it. To the question, how do I see the legacy of Jim Crow? Well, I see it here in Memphis were I live now. The black people here have a what I call a "behind the mule mentality". When the indigenous blacks interact with white people, there's the obvious Master/slave relationship. What I mean by this is that the interaction has the appearance of a Master talking to his slave. The black men that I've worked with never looked the white person they were having a conversation with in the eyes. The self-esteem here among blacks is low.
When black people that are native to Memphis find a job, if that job pays anything over $8.00, to them that's considered a good job, which probably is, but their motivation to move beyond that $8.00 job is non-existent. They will stay at that job and complain about the job and the white people until retirement. It's like nobody wants to better themselves beyond what their lowest or easiest potentials are. I believe this is a legacy of slavery and Jim Crow combined. It's like they have the potential to be a doctor but settle for the carpenter position, because it's been instilled in them that they shouldn't go any further than that $8.00 job.
I worked at this protein plant, and the company was giving the employees the opportunity to go to school and work. The company would pay for the schooling, all the employee had to do in return was to take a test in order to move up in the job position that became available. The black employees protested against that, because they said it was unfair that they should have to take a test in order to move up at a job that they've been on for years.
This free education was being offered to them and they didn't want it because they weren't planning on ever going anywhere else, and the thought of going to college was never in their thoughts. They looked at college as something beyond their potential. But what if they got fired or a technical position became available? It's just that the ambitions of blacks here in Memphis, is one of, 'I'll just settle for what I get' and 'I'm happy with the little that I have', 'I don't need to go any further so don't offer me anymore opportunities.' This mentality is passed on from generation to generation, and it looks like, at least in Memphis, it's here to stay.
When my father was called away to the Korean War, we lived with my maternal grandparents, who had a peach orchid (Leech's Peaches) in Levi, Tennessee, a place that is now a suburb of Memphis, but was then a small community between that city and the state of Mississippi.
My grandfather, Robert Taylor Leech, who was well into his 50's by then, worked that orchid all day every day except Sundays, from spring until fall. Usually his only help during those months was a black man named Charlie, but sometimes, when the crop was coming in heavily, there would be some migrant laborers, all of whom were white.
Mid-day, my grandfather would eat his lunch inside the house, at the kitchen table, while anyone working for him ate on the back porch, whether this was Charlie alone or Charlie and some white laborers.
On one of those occasions, one of the white laborers was offended that he and the other white men had to eat with Charlie, so he mustered up his courage and knocked on the screen door, calling out for my grandfather.
When my grandfather appeared, this white man said, "It ain't right that we have to eat with a nigger."
My grandfather looked at the man for a moment and then he said, "I believe you're right." And then he called Charlie into the house where he (Charlie) finished his lunch, sitting at the kitchen table, in between my grandfather and grandmother.
It's true that Charlie usually ate his lunch on the porch after that, but sometime in the evening or on a Sunday, he would come inside the house and sit in the living room with my grandfather where they would talk about all manner of things, but mostly about their families.
Something like that seems so small these days and like it was nothing, or less than nothing, but this happened during the time of Jim Crow, when there was Klan around there. It took some courage to do what my grandfather and Charlie did, and I so proud to have come from the one and to have known the other.
St. Louis, MO
This Chapter is Not Closed
I'm following your series and wanted to share my more recent experience. In the late 1980s and early 1990s I camped at a state campsite on Maryland's Eastern Shore. I stopped in a restaurant in Snow Hill, Maryland for lunch. I was immediately struck by the observation that no African-Americans were sitting at tables in this restaurant, but were, without exception, getting their meals for carryout. The laws may have been struck from the books, but Jim Crow was definitely still alive in Snow Hill just a little over 10 years ago.
Jim Crow reversal
My father-in-law grew up a white farm boy in rural Tennessee during the depression. During WWI he served in Europe in the field artillery. He rarely told stories of his war experiences, but one he loved to tell with a grin was about the "Red Ball Express" in Europe after the landings in France. One of the critical factors in Europe after the invasion was logistical support, getting supplies to troops at the front. Often allied advances were held up for lack of supplies. Because of this, the Red Ball Express, a transportation unit was given priority on all roads.
According to my father-in-law, everyone: foot soldiers, jeeps, trucks, tanks, etc. had to get off the road and let them pass when the Red Ball Express came through bringing supplies to the front. My father-in-law said the drivers of these trucks were black soldiers and he used to chuckle as he talked about how the white troops on the roads, many of whom had grown up in the south, had to hustle out of the way for these black troops. Not quite the picture we saw on the old Hollywood movie.
Jim Crow in Houston
I grew up in Houston, Texas. When I was in high school in the early 1960s, my father's office (he was a plastic surgeon) had two entrances--one for whites and one marked "colored only". One day, some of the kids in my class happened to be driving by the office and saw the sign. When they teased me about the next day, I was mortified, because at that time, I was attending a private school that was both academically challenging and progressive in its views on civil rights. I stormed home and insisted my father and his partner remove the sign. I was met with fierce resistance, but the following year, they moved to another office, and the sign was gone. I will always remember that sign and all the others from my childhood over water fountains, bathrooms and other public places--"colored only".
Norfolk, VA. Busses in WWII
I am not old enough (and I grew up in Canada) to remember this era myself, but my Dad told me the following:
My Dad was from New York City. During the Second World War, he enlisted in the Navy and was sent to Norfolk, Virginia. Upon boarding a public transit bus there for the first time, he went and sat in the back, as was the rule and custom in New York (Please Move to the Rear). The driver stopped the bus, came to the back, and addressed him in an apparently unpleasant tone: "Hey, sailor, y'all get up here in the front where y'all belong." The system could be restrictive in both directions.
Living Through Jim Crow
I was born and raised in Baltimore, MD. Most people think that Jim Crow only applied to the Deep South. This was certainly not true. We not only had bus rules (blacks to the back), but we had separate drinking fountains!!! My high school had no blacks...now it is 100 percent black!! My first year in college in Elkins Park, PA, I became friends with an Afro-American. At the end of the semester he said "Maybe I will see you in Baltimore, and we can shock everyone by sitting next to each other on a bus!!"
Rancho Palos Verdes, CA
The 1950s in the South
I worked on the family farm in tobacco every summer and was paid $4.00 per day just like the Black tenants. They were given a home, vegetables from the garden to stock their freezer, a hog when needed and beef when a steer was butchered. My Grandfather paid everyone the same white or black and expected more out of the white. No one was ever lynched or whipped because they missed work...they just weren't paid. The Blacks were humble, but you learned to judge everyone by how they acted. You liked some, and disliked others...color had nothing to do with it. Everyone seemed to travel to their own drummer. It was a good time to be alive in the South.
Ormond Beach, FL
Incident on the bus
On a Sunday afternoon in April 1950 when I was sixteen years old, I boarded the city bus in front of Brinkley's Store on Murchison Road in Fayetteville, NC on my way to participate in a program at my church (First Baptist) which was located on Franklin Street in downtown Fayetteville. After paying my bus fare, I discovered there were no other seats available for "colored". The only unoccupied seat was at the front of the bus between a white woman and a white boy. I sat in the seat. The bus driver immediately turned around and told me I could not sit in that seat. I wanted to know why. He responded, "Because it's against the law". (The law, "Colored passengers must occupy the first vacant rear seat" was posted on all city buses.)
I told him I didn't give a kitty about the law. He then stated he would call the police. He pulled the bus to the side of the street, and got off. A short time later two policemen came and told me I would have to get up. I asked them, "What am I expected to do if there are no other seats on the bus"? I was informed that I could stand up or get off. I got off the bus.
Ethelyn Holden Baker
Jim Crow Throughout the Country
Your story seems to focus on the south and Jim Crow. I was born in Detroit and it was a segregated city, with a history of exclusion of African Americans from political and economic justice. My mother and Dad tell stories of being excluded from lunch counters, theaters, and other forms of de facto Jim Crow even in the North. I was included since I was born in 1957 before we were allowed to eat at the lunch counters at the downtown stores, which I think we opened to all in 1964. Please get the facts about Jim Crow throughout the country not just the south. Some of the worst race riots occurred in northern cities throughout the 20th century. With the most recent one being in Cincinnati last year. Injustice still looms large in this country of ours, and until we tell the story fully we may not be able to start to impact it.
More Water-Cooler Crow
I am 53 years old and will never forget the first time I got to taste "colored" water. I just knew it would be as special as kool-aide. I was in a department store in Pittsburg, Kansas. Imagine my disappointment when it tasted just like "white" water.
I became embarrassed and proud all at the same time. I think that set my mind then and there, this was wrong.
My College Roommate - Another Special Memory
Since my Mother and Father were from the Pittsburg, KS area, we decided it would be good for me to go to college there. We lived in Jacksonville, Florida; it was 1966. The only black person I had EVER known by name was a sales counter clerk at downtown May-Cohns. Her name was Annie, and my friend Sugie and I would always make a point to visit her.
You guessed it, my first roommate in college was a black girl named Lilene. My grandparents helped me move into my room, and we suspected she was black by some of the hair care products on her dresser. My grandmother and I decided that this could be a real good learning experience and I should look forward to it. I didn't tell my parents until the end of the first week. The next day, the Dorm Monitor called me to her room. She said she had noticed I was from the South and had a black roommate and wanted to make sure I was doing OK. Having just told my parents, I was sure this came from them. They had called my Father's brother, a Kansas state senator, who had gone to the college Dean and told them "She gets a new roommate by Monday, or she's out of here."
I cried with despair and righteous anger. I went to my Uncle and demanded to know what was going on. He had me call my parents from his house. My Father said he had many business associates that would be offended to know his daughter was rooming with a black girl. My Mother said, you don't have to tell them.
For the first time in my life, I stood up to them and said, "Come and get me. There is not one person on this campus that will point me out and say 'She has a n-- for a roommate,' but if I get another roommate for that reason, everyone will point at me and say 'Who does she think she is?'" I'm glad I never had to stand up to them again, I picked my battle wisely and I won my right to choose for myself how I would live my life.
Sadly, the beginning of the second week, we switched with the girls across the hall, that were in the same situation. If I had it to do again, I would not. But we all did remain friendly and by the end of 2 years, we had all become close.
Memphis on Spring Break
In the spring of 1967, two of my friends and I came to Jacksonville for spring break. On the drive back to school, we were low on gas and approaching Memphis, it was late. The highway was road-blocked and we were forced to enter the town. There were no streetlights, no cars, and no people. What was going on? The first thing we saw was some broken flowerpots in the road. Shortly after, on a side street, we saw 3 cars driving without lights in a tight group made up of two police cars and one civilian car. There were four men riding in every car. What is going on? We saw this formation several more times, made up of two and one, of either police or National Guard. This was really bizarre; I've never since seen anything like it. We finally found a taxicab and hailed him down. We were then surrounded by the formation of three cars and 12-armed men, one car in front, one car in back and one car on the side of us. They told us Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated this day and the city was on a complete blackout. They told the taxi driver to take us to their depot and let us get gas and to then lead us out of town. I got to experience first hand the aftermath of a pivotal point in history.
There was a march on Broadway in Pittsburg the next day. I was very young. I stood on the sideline and watched. As you can see, I haven't always made the right choice. There is a long way to go, but at least Jim Crow is gone.
Jacksonville Beach, FL
Water fountains labeled "white" and "colored"
Segregation was made real for me as a white Northerner when I took a train trip around the US in summer 1947 (I was 24). My return from the West Coast was by way of the Southwest and New Orleans. It was on that leg of the trip that I for the first time saw drinking fountains labeled "colored" and "white." This was not outright cruelty such as lynching or denial of voting rights, all of which I had learned about. It was not silly, as it at first seemed to me. I realized that for segregation to stick it had to intrude into the simplest everyday activity such as taking a drink of water. It was that very banality that brought home what it must be like to be "colored."
I chose not to drink from either fountain.
Packing the Pee can for the road trip
It's seems funny to me now, some 40 years later. But that's what we did. Pack the Pee can in the back seat of the car as we prepared for our trip from Terre Haute, IN. to Nashville, TN. Home of Ma Dear (my mothers Mom).
Packing that ole coffee can was as important as any of the other items normally carried on a road trip in those days.
My parents never addressed why we had to carry it. They didn't need to, because even as a child I already knew the answer to the unasked question. Ole Jim Crow didn't allow for us to use the restroom whenever we stopped for gas. That stop for fuel would be the only stop made. It just wasn't thought safe to do otherwise.
Peeing in that can seemed as normal as taking U.S. 41 South to the Penny Rail into Nashville where Big Jim really stood tall.
No One Sees Beneath the Mask I Wear
I listened to this morning's edition of the story with great interest since all of my life I have heard the stories about how Jim Crow affected the lives of my great grandparents down to my parents. I was born 6 months before Rosa Parks sat down on the bus in 1955, and born in the north where I was called names and excluded but not legally. A few years ago my father, who is 71 was talking about how when he went into the Air Force in 1950, it was newly desegregated. He and another Black enlistee were placed in a tent with 23 southern white males since there was not enough housing for all the enlistees. Before lights off nothing in particular was done except some glaring and name-calling. As soon as the lights went out my father and the other Black guy got hit with boots that were thrown at them. This went on for a few nights until they had had enough. They started fighting back one night, and it never happened again.
Another story he told was of the desegregation of Barbour Junior High School in Detroit in 1943. Walking home on the first day of school he and his friends had to run as they were about to be attacked. Bottles and rocks were thrown at them as they were chased by a huge crowd of white kids. They ran home and told their parents. Everyone in the Black community was talking about this for weeks... but it never made into the local newspapers or radio.
I told those 2 stories for this reason: on the promo for the next segment an obviously ignorant white woman says that things were better for "them" before because they didn't have to worry about anything! Well people don't know what is happening in a community, even if they're oppressing it and dominating it. As the Paul Lawrence Dunbar poem indicates, "no one sees beneath the mask I wear."
Racism is alive and well and practiced subtly in America. It is hard to recognize when you don't walk the walk or talk the talk as a Black person. The author of "Black Like Me" found that out, but others seem to feel that a few laws will change 400 years of cruelty and mistreatment. It doesn't.
Until you look at me and don't see me as a Black woman, but as a woman only, racism is a problem that will kill us all!
Seeing Discrimination for the First Time
I am a white female in my 50s. I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. I remember my first eye-opening exposure to discrimination. I was 10-12 years old, going with my sister to visit the doctor. This was our family doctor where I had been many times. For some reason, my sister parked her car in the back of the doctor's office instead of the front. I did not even realize the office had a 'back door'. We walked into the back door and I was shocked to see a small, dark room full of black people waiting to see the doctor - my doctor.
This waiting room was a disgrace. The chairs in the 'colored' waiting room were barely holding together - and there were only a few of those. Most people were standing up or sitting on the floor. It was hot and crowded and smelly. I doubt it had been cleaned in quite a while.
I had never seen a black face at the doctor's office. The staff must have had different rooms for the black people, probably in just as bad repair. You would think after all the time I had been going to this doctor that I would have seen a black person in the halls. Obviously the staff went to a great deal of trouble to keep us apart.
This makes me seem very naive, but we were 'protected' from seeing these things. We stayed on our side of town and left the colored folks alone. It just never occurred to me that there were not black doctors to take care of black people.
From this time on, I started noticing the differences in the races in Birmingham. It was a real eye opener. The high school I attended was one of the 1st in the state to have blacks attend. I grew up in a prejudiced household, not angry prejudice, just a quiet 'those people' attitude. My father spoke openly that having blacks in 'our schools' would bring us to 'their level', reducing the ability to get a good education. I don't think he ever realized the reason 'their education' was less than ours was because the state handled the black schools so differently.
After marriage, I went to a 'business school' in downtown Birmingham. The law said 'Jim Crow' is dead. But again I was surprised to see the reality of the hate and fear still alive in so many people. In my business school, I developed friendship with many young black women. We had so much in common. In the classrooms no one thought anything of blacks and whites talking and helping each other. Three of these black ladies and I went to lunch one day. Walking down the street, laughing and enjoying the sunshine. All of a sudden, one of the black girls stopped and said, 'Are you sure you want to go to lunch with us? It might cause trouble.' I looked around and saw all the businessmen staring at me with looks of disgust on their faces. My black friends knew that if I continued on to lunch with them, it could hurt my chances of a job after I completed my classes. I felt frozen. At that point I had not even 'noticed' that I was the only white person in our lunch group. I wish I could say I ignored the stares. Quite frankly I don't remember what I did, but I remember the shock that people would judge me for walking the streets with my black friends. That feeling created in me better understanding what it meant to be black during those times. It's a lesson I never forgot.
Jim Crow Today
I recently moved to Florida and visited the town of Monticello near Tallahassee. I, for the first time, saw Jim Crow seating that was still in the courthouse and in the opera house. There was also an outside Jim Crow stairwell at the opera house. Originally being from the West Coast, I had only heard about Jim Crow, but had never seen a manifestation of Jim Crow such as what I witnessed in Monticello. What is interesting is that there have been no efforts to remove the legacy of Jim Crow. The town's people seem to be quite comfortable with its presence. Blacks seem complacent, maybe even subconsciously fearful of addressing the remaining remnants of Jim Crow. Whites seem to have the "business as usual" attitude with no interest in removing this symbol of power and white supremacy. The impact that this post-Jim Crow experience has had on me is one that reminds me of the statement W E B Dubois made about the problem of the twentieth century...the color line...still alive and well.
Segregation still exists some places...
I am a college student who will teach when I get certified. I tutor in Durham, NC. I lived in Durham for four years and I now live in Chapel Hill. I have consistently noticed that several schools are all black in the city and almost all white in the suburbs. Some of these all-black schools are special magnet schools, made that way to attract some of the white kids who live on the periphery of the city in the suburbs. However, I think few choose to partake of that opportunity, leaving the neighborhood schools a uniform race.
As a white female raised all over the South, it is interesting to me when I am the only white person in the room, maybe let alone an entire building of hundreds of teachers, students, and school staff. This has happened several times, and I am "used to" it now.
But I really can't say I can know what it was like to not only feel aware that I was a different race, BUT ALSO live with the knowledge that people viewed my race as inferior. Sometimes I think that segregation today may be voluntary--people might just think it easier to stick with people they are comfortable with since it takes time and effort to forge friendships outside the in-group.
When I tutored in area high schools with a bit more diverse student populations, I still noticed that in the cafeteria there literally are lines down the room where the white kids and black kids sit with members of their own race. Lunch in high school does not involved assigned seating usually, so I can only infer that the students sit segregated by choice. I am sure there might be exceptions, but this was true overall for my yearlong observations.
I might go to graduate school in New York City and student-teach there as well. I bet Durham won't be the only place I experience being the only white person in the room. I am glad I have been out of my comfort zone by feeling VERY aware of the color of my skin surrounded by children, because it really gets me thinking about how our schools really aren't desegregated at all. Segregation certainly still exists today.
Chapel Hill, NC
Roots of Change: the Generation After...
My parents told me as I was growing up that people had to drink from different water fountains and use separate chairs and bathrooms under the Jim Crow laws of the South. These extremely brief mentions of personal experience with history were always offered as a lens through which to see both the impassioned speech of White and Black Americans and my own liberal views in relation to history.
As a young white female growing up in a solidly Black, Midwestern, suburban community during the 1970s and 1980s, I frequently became so impassioned about equal rights and the inequities I saw daily that the historical balance offered by glimpses of Jim Crow through my parents' allusions to memories and my parents' aversion to discuss what it was like allowed me to live equity, to live a life open to multicultural friends and experiences before the word was coined.
Parental memories of the late Jim Crow days in Memphis, TN and small town TX offered me the opportunity to grow up in desegregated schools in the Midwest, be bussed with my neighbors across town to those schools, and feel strongly for a racial experience of which my family members--merely due to skin color and geographic locale--had experienced, but had not been subject to.
We do not talk openly of these things today. The social stigma is still one that creates an uncomfortable atmosphere whenever such topics are mentioned. I do not know whether my two siblings know the stories I know, or whether they will be able to pass them to their children. I will be able to, I plan to for the little white southern girl shamed by adults just because she went to get a drink a fountain before she could read...for my teenage years and the buddies of that time period (the American musketeers: me, Anglo 5'6''& Gie, Italian 4'11''& Ty, African American 6'8''). Our lives were very different due to reactions to Jim Crow and the openness allowed as a consequence of reactionary changes. Roots of change should be remembered.
St. Louis, MO
Jim Crow is alive and well in Alabama
As a resident of central Alabama, the lingering of Jim Crow is strongly felt only a few blocks from my home. Reminiscent of George Wallace's stand in the schoolhouse door is last year's headline news of a black college girl attempting to gain membership into the traditionally all-white sorority system at the University of Alabama. Comments on the blue-collar front are that she should stay in her place, because there is a separate black sorority system. There is still no integration, in this tax-supported system.
At my steel mill job as a production laborer, I identify with the group that the black males belong to. At first thought, this would seem odd, given the fact that I am a college educated white female -- in fact the only female in my work area -- with such a totally different socio-economic background than some of my black co-workers, some of whom drive in from a neighboring county, one of the poorest in the nation.
Strong bonds form on a twelve-hour shift among the group of individual employees who seem to always be the ones chosen for the shoveling details, the labor pool jobs when hard times first hit the steel industry. Many times I have been hit with explanations from co-workers about separations of blacks being in the Bible, and that women shouldn't be doing a man's job. Never mind the fact that for me to go into the office to work, at my place of employment, I would have to net a $700 a month cut in pay. That would be to accept a job that requires a college degree.
For a woman to break out of the boundaries to tread new ground is closely akin to being a black, in the eyes of the Southern Baptist males I work with. Some act as if I am as low as a black in their hierarchy. No female, and only one black male, has ever moved up the ladder in the line of progression in my department. I have been witness to the patronizing attitudes displayed toward a black male co-worker, done with a wink toward my direction, behind his back. I have vowed to give personal support and encouragement to this individual, so that he, too, may have a shot at one of the better jobs in the mill.
Jim Crow Affect Remains Today
A lot has changed and yes, things are better; but Jim Crow should never have existed; not in a civilized society.
As a post baby boomer, I live with the ill affect of racism on my job. I know the bar is higher for me, I know there is a shorter learning curve for me than for my white counter part and I know unconditionally that there is far less tolerance for me.
Time and time again I am given the assignments my white counter parts no longer want or are unable to manage. Once given the program, it is incumbent on me to swiftly and effectively manage the program. Failure is not an option, I must achieve or I will be criticized, judged, received a lower performance rating or more aggressive disciplinary action will be taken against me.
I recently purchased a home via FHA, I had the home inspected. The inspector and FHA fail to identify some major plumbing problems, including, but not limited to mold (repair cost 13,000.00) and the previous homeowner (a white male) failed to disclose any problems with the home. I have contacted the previous homeowner, the home inspector, FHA, Federal organizations and legislators.... You guessed it... it is my problem. I know if I wronged a white person, as I have been wronged by the previous homeowner, the inspector and FHA, I would be found guilty.
Justice is a fleeting hope in the life of African Americans. At some point in every African American's life they are reminded that they you are black and therefore do not have the same rights and entitlements as whites.
Farmington Hills, MI