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Other Marginalized Groups Experience Jim Crow

  • I Never Paid Attention to Signs on Buildings
  • Out for a Spinning Wheel
  • KiziManitou's (God's) Children
  • Whites Only
  • Treat People as Individuals

  • 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.

    Roberto Velez
    Beach Lake, PA

    Out for a Spinning Wheel

    I listened to your segment on Jim Crow and wish to comment. I am a 49 year-old Italian women. I am originally from Warren, Michigan but spent every single summer in Birmingham, Alabama because that is where my grandparents lived when they came from Italy. They had nine children. Most of them owned their own businesses in Birmingham or Bessemer, Alabama. My memories of the south are so different than my life in the north. I remember working in my grandmother Rosalie's store in the middle of a black neighborhood in Birmingham and remember seeing how terribly poor the black people were. I was shocked that most of them had raggedy clothes and shoes that didn't fit them or with no backs in them. They would come in the store and just buy one cigarette or one light bulb.

    A few miles away, my Aunt Mary also had a grocery store. She had five little girls and if it were not for her maid, Claudiette, I don't think those girls would have ever grown up. My aunt used to tell me, "Don't worry, you don't have to wash your clothes, Claudiette will wash and iron them." I would tell Claudiette, "No, you don't have to do mine. I can do them." I tried to help her with my cousins as much as I could when it was my turn to stay at my Aunt Mary's house. She seemed very grateful for the help. It was a very sad day when Claudiette announced to my Aunt that she was quitting and going up north to Michigan to get a job at one of the auto plants. I often wondered what became of her.

    The second half of my summer was spent at my "rich relatives" houses in Bessemer, Alabama. I can remember one night when my uncle Johnny was taking me for a "spinning wheel" (a shake) and he said, "Jennie Rose, let me take you were the "nevadies" (sp) {blacks in Italian} live." He took me to this poor ghetto side of town where the houses were barely standing and then he said, "Can you imagine Jennie Rose, these "nevadies" want the city to put in indoor bathrooms for them?" I said, "You mean they don't have them?! That's horrible!" My uncle said, "Jennie Rose, I'm going to tell your daddy that you're a N_____ lover." I can go on and on, but I'm sure you have other listeners who wish to comment.

    Jennie Tombrella
    Auburn Hills, MI

    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
    Ottawa, AK

    Whites Only

    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.

    Rosemary Perdue
    Alexandria, VA

    Treat People as Individuals

    I grew up living on Army bases in Texas and Alabama in the 50s and 60s. When we moved to El Paso in 1955, the schools were recently desegregated so my classmates consisted of Mexican-American, black, and white kids. My best friends in the base housing area were a black kid across the street, who is now a general in the Army, and a "white" kid whose mother was Mexican-American. I suspect that our section of the housing area was mainly "colored" and mixed race families; my mother is Japanese-American.

    In the mid 50s we lived in Daleville, Alabama, next to Fort Rucker, for a few months. As a 6 or 7 year old, I remember standing in line at the Dairy Queen on a hot evening. I went to the second window, which had no line and the lady inside told me "Hon, you need to get in the other line." Not having been indoctrinated into the philosophy of segregation, I had gone up to the "colored" window when I should have waited in the "white" line.

    In the early 60s, we returned to Fort Rucker; by then I was in 10th grade. High school kids were bussed from the Army base into Ozark, AL to the white high school. I don't recall seeing any black families on the base. I clearly remember how some kids on the bus gradually devolved to the point of throwing eggs at the little black grade school kids as we passed by. When it was announced during school that President Kennedy had been shot, we were stunned, some girls wept, but one boy in my class let out a whoop and holler. During pep rallies, a friend and I were the only two who didn't stand and yell when the band played "Dixie". Even though my friends and I were pretty typical teenage boys, I think we felt an unconscious fear of the society outside the Army base and we never thought of doing anything off the base. Even today, when I see footage of blacks marching in Alabama during that time, I feel fear for their safety and their lives.

    Racial prejudice has also touched my family. My grandparents were not allowed to become citizens or own land because of their race: Japanese. My mother and several relatives are Nisei, born in the U.S. For the duration of World War II, my grandparents, mother, and other relatives were imprisoned, because of their race, in Tule Lake, California. In 1948, my parents could not get married in San Francisco because it would be a mixed-race marriage. They went to Vancouver, Washington to be married.

    What I saw and felt growing up in a segregated society and what I have learned about my own family history has made me realize the importance of treating people as individuals.

    Eugene Erickson
    Santa Maria, CA

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