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Northerners Experience Jim Crow

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.

Nileita Williams
Southboro, MA

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 Bs—bacon 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!

Betsey Brister
Sydney, New South Wales

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?

Barbara Pierce-Cruise
Natchitoches , LA

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.

Carol Banks
Richmond, KY

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.

Fitzwilliam, NH

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.

Brian Wright
Hartland, CT

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.

Otis Washington
Durham, NC

A Young Boy in the South 1960 - 1963

In the summer of 1960 my family moved from Pennsylvania to Mississippi. I was the oldest of three children and turned ten in September 1960. We moved because my father took a General Manager position at a manufacturing plant, which employed 300 people. So from the start we were "Yankee strangers" which had its own set of issues for a ten year old to deal with, but that's another story.

The Remembering Jim Crow piece this morning on Morning Edition brought back some memories: the segregated movie theater where white and black had separate entrances, access to the snack bar and black seating in the balcony; and of course the bathrooms in the county courthouse were separate, but I can vividly recall the water fountain with a tacky, hand-printed cardboard sign which read "coloreds use cup", the one metal cup hanging on a nail above the fountain; even the parochial school and church we attended were segregated then.

But the one thing that really awakened me happened at my first job at the local grocery store. I was 12 and, as most boys that age, I looked up to the older teenagers. There was one particular fellow who was nice to me, taught me the ropes of pricing cans and stocking shelves and I came to admire and look up to this 18 year-old co-worker. One day we were working the small concession stand in the store that sold sandwiches and drinks. Black customers used a separate window to make purchases. I was waiting on a black gentleman and responded to him "yes sir" to some question. When through with that sale, my mentor pulled me over and said "don't talk to them like that". I was truly ignorant and asked "like what?"...he said, "don't call them sir!"

A small lesson for a small boy. I have vivid memories of those years, 1960-1963, many wonderful and many still troubling.

Dan Lehmann
Helvetia, WV

My Experience

I was 7 when we moved from the North to Bossier City, LA. It was 1950 and until then I had never seen a black person. We bought a small track home that had been part of a cotton field and my window looked into the field. I watched the black pickers, pick the cotton with huge bags over their shoulders and in the evening they would go back to little shacks on the other end of the field and build a big bonfire and sing and I'd be mesmerized by what I thought their lives would be like. But, when I tried to talk to them during the day, they would shoo me away, they did not want a little white girl getting in the way...

At about age 10 I tried to ride a bus for the first time and as kids do, I went directly to the back and the white bus driver stopped the bus and screamed at me to get back up front... I had NO idea why he was so upset about where I was sitting, until more people boarded and I saw blacks and whites take their seats in the back or front. It was a day of shocking sadness, for me, that people could be so cruel to each other.

Ruth Griffin
Brisbane, CA

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