REMEMBERING JIM CROW
A documentary by American RadioWorks
Deborah Amos: From Minnesota Public Radio and NPR news, this an American RadioWorks
special report, "Remembering Jim Crow".
Music: slow guitar blues
Amos: This is Deborah Amos. For much of the 20th Century, African Americans
in the South were barred from the voting booth, sent to the back of the bus,
and walled off from many of the rights they deserved as American citizens. Segregation
was legal and the system was called Jim Crow.
Man's voice: Well my grandmother always told me, you have a certain place and
stay in it.
Woman's Voice: My grandfather was just as afraid of a white man as he was a
Man's Voice: At that time, you did something that you shouldn't do and you
were black, they would hang you.
Woman's Voice: And when they got ready to lynch him, they'd have a picnic.
Amos: In the coming hour, "Remembering Jim Crow," a special report
from American RadioWorks, the documentary project of Minnesota Public Radio
and NPR News. First, the news.
Amos: This is a special report from American RadioWorks, "Remembering
Jim Crow". I'm Deborah Amos.
Slow Guitar Blues
Amos: It lasted about 80 years. It seized every state in the American South.
People died because of it, went hungry because of it, lived in fear and misery
because of it. They called it Jim Crow. White authorities in the South imposed
a system of laws and social customs designed to deny African Americans their
dignity and their rights as citizens.
Southern, male voice#1: Alabama: All passenger stations in this state operated
by any motor transportation company shall have separate waiting rooms or space
and separate ticket windows for the white and colored races.
Southern, male voice #2: North Carolina: School textbooks shall not be interchangeable
between the white and colored schools, but shall continue to be used by the
race first using them.
V1: Mississippi: The marriage of a white person with a Negro or mulatto or
person who shall have one-eighth or more of Negro blood, shall be unlawful and
Music: Jump Jim Crow
Litwack: I'm Leon Litwack, I'm a professor of history at the University of
California at Berkeley. The term Jim Crow first appeared in minstrelsy in the
early 19th century. Thomas "Daddy" Rice who was a white minstrel popularized
the term. Like so many he used burnt cork to blacken his face. He dressed himself
in the garment of a beggar. He grinned, of course, broadly. And then he imitated
the dancing and singing and demeanor generally ascribed to Negro character.
Music: I went down to de river, I didn't mean to stay, but there I see so many
gals, I couldn't get away. Chorus: Wheel about, an' turn about, an' do jis so;
eb'ry time I wheel about, I jump Jim Crow.
Litwack: And calling it "Jump Jim Crow," he based the song on a routine
he's seen performed in 1828 by an elderly and crippled Louisville stableman
who belonged to a Mr. Crow. The public, North and South, responded with considerable
enthusiasm to Rice's caricature of black life. And Jim Crow had entered the
Music: De way dey bake de hoe cake, Virginny nebber tire; dey put de doe upon
de foot, an' stick 'em in de fire. Chorus: Wheel about, an' turn about, an'
do jis so; eb'ry time I wheel about, I jump Jim Crow.
Amos: Jim Crow ruled the South well into the 1950s and 60s. Four generations
of African Americas endured segregation and race relations today are deeply
marked by the experience. Correspondent Stephen Smith sifted through hundreds
of recorded interviews with the last generation of black women and men who experienced,
and remember Jim Crow.
Stephen Smith: In the early 1990s, dozens of graduate students at Duke University
in North Carolina and other schools fanned out across the south with tape recorders,
microphones and curiosity. Their mission: to capture and preserve stories of
20th century segregation before the black men and women who survived Jim Crow
Woman's voice: What is your name, sir?
Gratton: OK, my name is Charles Gratton. I was born July the 16th 1932, Birmingham
Alabama. (voice fades under)
Smith: The students interviewed more than a thousand people, and produced an
extraordinary record of what African Americans endured under Jim Crow and how
they fought back.
Grafton: I can remember my mother would have the occasion to send me to this
grocery store I told you about that was approximately a mile away, she would
give me instructions before I'd leave home and tell me, say, "Son, if you
pass any white people on your way, you get off the sidewalk. Give them the sidewalk.
You know, you move over. Don't challenge white people."
Pointer: If you went to town during the week Monday through Friday the sheriff
would say, "What are you doin' up here?" You better get out of town.
But on Saturday you could stay all day. That was the day they set for the Blacks.
Pointer: I don't know. You could just stay up there all day long. Through the
week you weren't allowed up there.
Robinson: Because they got paid on Fridays, they'd come to town on Saturdays
and spend the money. That was their attitude. So, black people, would see, this
was like a picnic to them. They would see their friends, their relatives. They'd
make acquaintances and what not. That's the reason Saturday was the day they
would call Black people's day.
Welch: You couldn't go to eat in a restaurant. If they served you at all you
went around to a window at the back of the place, right at the kitchen. You
Pointer: My grandfather, he was just afraid of a white man as he was a rattlesnake.
Because he'd been beaten and knocked about so much, no matter what you say or
do let them have their way, don't you say nothing back to them. No matter what
Randolph: Well my grandmother always told me, "You have a certain place,
and stay in it." That was automatic, you didn't have to think about it.
You knew it and you were taught it.
Music: Slow guitar
Litwack: Jim Crow emerges in the 1890s in response to perceptions, not altogether
incorrect, perceptions of a new generation of black southerners, born in freedom,
undisciplined by slavery, unschooled in the old racial etiquette, and in response
to fears that this generation could not be expected to stay in its place without
some kind of legal coercion.
Sullins: It meant the ugly signs that you saw, you saw them at the railroad
stations, saw them at bus stations, saw them traveling that said "Negroes
to the rear" and it meant that room that was for white was always bigger,
always had more seats and was always better kept. So that was the crux of Jim
Crowism. To prevent a group of citizens from being a part of what they rightfully
should have been a part of.
Gilmore: My name is Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, I'm a professor of history at
Yale University. Jim Crow was a word that white and black southerners used for
an elaborate system of white supremacy, a system that was established both through
legislation and the courts, and through custom. It could mean anything from
being unable to vote, to being segregated, to being lynched. It was part and
parcel of a system of white supremacy. Sort of like we use the word apartheid
as a codeword to describe a certain kind of white supremacy.
Young: White men and women were addressed as Mr. and Mrs. You didn't address
blacks that way. And don't make a mistake talking to a white person about a
black person and call him Mr. I was talking about some black woman who was supervisor
of the schools for black folks and I kept saying Miss So-and-So. Finally the
white woman stopped me and said, "Young, that woman you're talking about,
is she black or white?" I said she's black. "Well, don't Miss her
to me then. Just call her by her first name. Don't ever Miss a black person
to me." I said no ma'am.
Gilmore: Jim Crow was a political movement that began with state constitutions.
For example in Mississippi, writing in laws that took the right to vote effectively
took the right to vote away from black people. Basically it's about power: who
has it, who keeps it, who vies for it.
Litwack: In other words, a way had to be found to disenfranchise blacks without
risking any federal intervention or any legal challenges. Whites reached a sort
of consensus, that is since blacks were deemed to be ignorant and illiterate,
they were unfit to vote. So most states then imposed property and or literacy
qualifications for voting. And then they went ahead and provided loopholes through
which only white men could squeeze.
Sullings: They'd ask college professors with PhDs to write certain parts of
the Constitution, to prove that they could read and write. Long passages. And
they would say, didn't put a period, didn't write straight on the line. Anything
like that. And of course our registrars could hardly read or write themselves.
Music: blues guitar
Lucas: Maurice Lucas, Mayor of the town of Renova Misssissippi, located about
90 miles south of Memphis. There wasn't any opportunity unless you taught school
or was a preacher. That was it. Only the domestic folks that had decent jobs
with the white folks where took care of the washing and ironing for the white
folks were the only ones who had a decent place to stay unless you owned your
own land or something. That was it. The only people you saw with shirt and tie
on through the week was a school teacher or a preacher. And if them white folks
caught you with a shirt and tie on they wanted to know what the hell you was
Music: Sharecropping Blues Well I work all the week in the blazing sun, Lord
I work all the week in the blazing sun. Lord I work all the week in the blazing
Conrad: I'm Glen Conrad, I'm director for the Center for Louisiana studies at
the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. What happened after the civil war
is the plantation system survived with the planter providing housing, foods
and things like this. I would best describe African Americans during the Jim
Crow era as being comparable to serfs.
Lucas: When my granddaddy was sharecropping, it was a system designed to keep
you owing them. You never got free.
Robinson: For instance here's a man with 10 children. In December he's told,
and this goes for all of the plantations, he's told to come to the big house
and have a settlement. Okay the settlement would go like this. "Well, John,
you made 25 bales of cotton. And now you know that the old mule died, had to
have another mule, got to pay for that. Now John, your daughter took sick and
you called me and told me you had to take her to the doctor and I had to call
the doctor up. You know it costs some money for that so I'll take that out.
Now John, you're almost out of debt, but you're not out of debt yet."
Chatman: My name is Thomas Christopher Columbus Chatman Senior. I was born
in Coffee County, Georgia. When we had gathered our crops, sold all the money
crops like tobacco, peanuts, and cotton, my father told me that Saturday, "Well
boy, let's go and settle up." So we went up to Mr. Thomas' house to the
back yard as usual and he came out on the back porch. I had kept a record myself
of everything we had got from that man that year and I know we didn't owe him
any money. So he came out on the porch and he started thumbing through his book,
and finally he looked up at my father and said: "John, you don't have any
money coming but you cleared your corn." Well, when he said that I reached
for my book, my daddy stepped on my foot because he knowed them crackers would
kill you if you'd dispute their word, you know. The first thing went through
my mind was, how could this man take all our money and my father had six other
children down there, raggedy, no money, winter was coming and he's going to
take it all.
Music: I ain't treated no better, Lord, than a mountain goat, boss takes my
crop and a poll tax takes my vote
Smith: We heard from Charles Gratton, Anne Pointer, Emilia Robinson, John Welch,
Della Sullins, Kenneth Young, Maurice Lucas, and Thomas Chatman. For American
RadioWorks, I'm Stephen Smith.
Amos: Coming up, the terror of lynching, and how African Americans fought Jim
Woman's voice: And when they got ready to lynch him, they would have a picnic
and hundreds of people would come. The wives would bring a picnic basket and
bring her little children and they would have the lynching.
Man's voice: We got wind that the whites were going to come and get him, so
the bird got around, if you've got guns, come on down we'll just have to have
Amos: I'm Deborah Amos. You're listening to "Remembering Jim Crow,"
a special report from American RadioWorks, the documentary project of Minnesota
Public Radio and NPR News.
Music: "Sharecropping Blues": Lord, I'm leaving here cause I just
can't stay I'm goin' where I can get more decent pay.
Amos: Our program continues in just a moment, from NPR, National Public Radio.
Amos: This is a special report from American RadioWorks, Remembering Jim Crow.
I'm Deborah Amos.
V1: Louisiana: All circuses, shows, and tent exhibitions, to which the attendance
of more than one race is invited shall provide not less than two ticket offices
and not less than two entrances.
V2: Mississippi: The prison warden shall see that the white convicts shall
have separate apartments for both eating and sleeping from the Negro convict.
V1: North Carolina: The state librarian is directed to fit up and maintain
a separate place for the use of the colored people who may come to the library
for the purpose of reading books or periodicals.
Amos: In addition to repressive laws, Jim Crow dominated southern custom and
culture. Breaking those unwritten rules could be fatal for blacks. So African
Americans invented ways to endure and resist Jim Crow. Here's correspondent
Smith: There were a lot of rules to follow. Blacks visiting a white home were
expected to use the back door. If a white employer was driving his black maid
home, she had to sit in the back seat. Blacks were never supposed to contradict
white people. And perhaps the most serious rule of all: under no circumstances
could a black man show interest in a white woman.
Robinson: Some white man might feel that I don't like the way that Negro looks
at my wife or that white woman. And string him up to a tree. And when they would
get ready to lynch him, they'd have a picnic. They'd have told the people, we're
gonna have a lynching. And hundreds of people would come. The wives would bring
a picnic basket, and bring her little children, and they would have the lynching.
Smith: That was Amelia Robinson of Tuskegee, Alabama. When whites committed
crimes against blacks, it was common for the police and the courts to treat
the matter lightly, if at all. Blacks on the other hand, were constantly watched,
and often mistreated, by the law. Price Davis remembers the harassment blacks
faced just driving to the beach through Pageland South Carolina.
Davis: And you had this big belly sheriff going to sit on that square, the
little square. And if you came through there and you were black, you were going
to be stopped. And once you got stopped you were going to have to pay out that
15 dollars, which was a lot of money. You going to pay something. We would watch
three or four carloads of blacks go through. We'd give them about five minutes
or ten minutes to get into Pageland. And we know that sheriff has them. And
that was what we called running the gauntlet. That was running the gauntlet.
We would go through driving ten miles an hour, fifteen miles an hour. But the
minute you got out of his sight you'd better hit it down, because as soon as
he would take care of those three blacks, you were going to be next.
Smith: The rules of Jim Crow could be fickle. Some times the color line was
strictly enforced, sometimes it wasn't. For example, it was not uncommon for
white men to have sex with black women. While some of these relationships were
consensual, many were not. Historian Raymond Gavins is a director of the oral
history project at Duke University, the source for many of the recordings in
Gavins: In some of the stories, there are references to women who were involved
in domestic work and who were exploited or, in fact in other instances, women
who were being kept in the black community by white men.
Pointer: If he had a big house, he had a small house. And this house for his
black mistress. And one man he had another young girl wasn't but 13 years old.
And she came there to wash dishes for his wife. When his wife knew anything
she's pregnant, and she's having babies one after the other. And she stayed
there and took it. Now, I wouldn't taken that. Just like Pinkert. His mother
had 10 children. Did he tell you about it?
Pinkert: Okay, my name is Otis Pinkert. Sure, I had a white father. He was
very nice to us, too. All of us.
Woman's voice: Ten children in your family.
Pinkert: Ten children
Woman: Your mother and your father weren't married.
Pinkert: No, he was married to, you know, to his wife. They lived on the next
road across the
His sons, his oldest son's used to bring food to my house,
bags and whatnot just loaded. That was our food for years.
Woman: Was that unusual that there were such good relations?
Pinkert: Yes. That's unusual, very unusual.
Smith: Some blacks who had white parentage were so light skinned they could
pass themselves off as white people, when necessary. Maurice Lucas.
Lucas: During the depression Daddy Will and Mama bought most of the groceries
for the people in this community. They could pass for white and grandpa and
granddaddy and grandmamma used to go to Cleveland and buy all the groceries
for folks in this town. But I know they used to go to town and buy wagonloads
of food for people in this community.
Smith: African Americans in the South devised countless ways to shield themselves
and their families from the predatory and humiliating customs of Jim Crow. Wilhelmina
Baldwin of Tuskegee remembers how her father tried to protect the family by
keeping the children away from segregated places.
Baldwin: Well, there were just certain things that we did not do. For instance
going to, wherever we went out of town, they took us. We never had to go to
the bus station for anything. Until I got to be 10 years old, they didn't take
me to buy shoes. They bought my shoes. And if they didn't fit, they'd take them
back and get another size. They bought the clothes for all of us like that.
So we, we didn't get into the stores to have to deal with the clerks and whatnot.
Smith: Rather than sequestering their children from Jim Crow, some families
taught survival lessons early.
Newsome: Cemore Morton Newsome. I guess that's the one thing my father did
say, he always used to say, "You have to be very careful where you go,
what you do, because anytime something goes wrong, and if you're there whether
you're guilty or not, your guilty by association."
Smith: Blacks needed a way to shield themselves, as much as possible, from
the capricious hostility of Jim Crow. They created something of a parallel country
within America, what the scholar W.E.B. DuBois called living "behind the
veil" from whites. Historians Leon Litwack and Darlene Clark Hine:
Litwack: What blacks did essentially was to draw inward, to construct in their
own communities a separate world.
Hine: The institutions that sustained them were the churches, were the schools,
were the social clubs, were the fraternal organizations, the sororities. And
their culture, their music, whether the blues, spirituals, storytelling, humor,
or what have you.
Litwack: Within very rigidly prescribed boundaries they improvised strategies
for dealing with whites. Most tried to enjoy the personal and family experiences
that life had to offer.
Hine: All of this was done very often without white southerners being aware
Smith: One strategy blacks used was to conceal their real thoughts and feelings
from whites. It was a tactic passed down from slavery times when black slaves
veiled their ideas and actions to avoid getting in trouble with the slave owner.
Georgia Sutton of Newbern North Carolina:
Sutton: My mother told me nobody ever knows what goes through your head. She
used to say, that lady I work for is foolish enough to believe that I really
like her. She said I'm not thinking about her one way or the other. Just pay
me what she owes me. And I learned, too, that I could smile on the outside.
Smith: On the other hand, Olivia Cherry of Chesapeake, Virginia frowned when
white employers couldn't be bothered to remember her name. It was common for
whites to call black people generic names like Uncle or Auntie or Jim or Susie.
Cherry: And she would call me, I would be upstairs cleaning the bathroom, and
she said, "Susie." They loved to call me Susie. "Susie."
So I didn't answer. I was a spunky kid then. I was like thirteen or fourteen,
and I didn't answer. Finally, she come to the steps and said, "Olivia,
you hear me calling you?" I said, "Now I hear you. Now you said, 'Olivia.'
That's my name." Then there was this white man and his girlfriend. They
had a raspberry farm. Here goes my name again. The man said, "Hey, Susie.
Susie. You missed some on your row." I knew he was calling me, because
this was my row, but I just kept on working. He said, "Susie, don't you
hear me talking to you?" I said, "I told you before, my name is Olivia.
Olivia. Can you say that?"
Smith: Starting in the 1890s, hundreds of thousands of African Americans began
to resist Jim Crow by getting out of the South altogether. It was called the
great migration. Most moved north after World War One when the south was particularly
violent. Price Davis of Charlotte North Carolina headed north to opportunity
as soon as he finished high school, even though his parents wanted him to go
to a local black school called Smith University.
Davis: I did not want, and I've got to repeat this, I did not want to be the
most educated elevator operator down here in the south. Used to have to operate
them by hand and all the boys that I knew that had graduated from out here at
Smith, they were either operating an elevator or whatnot. I knew that I was
going to leave and go to New York and I said I'll go to New York and get me
a job in the union and I'll make me some money.
Music: New York jazzy music
Davis: And everything changed. The whole atmosphere changed. I got there at
Washington, D.C., changed buses and a black woman come up and she told me she
said this is good now son. You can sit wherever you want to sit on the bus.
I said "I can?" She said, "Yeah." She said. "You get
you a seat." I did not move to the front but I did not sit in the back.
I moved middle ways. When I got to New York, got a cab and went to Harlem, I
looked around. I saw a black policeman directing traffic. I said, "Oh,
my God, this is the Promised Land!"
Music: blues sound
Smith: Many blacks who moved North found something short of the promised land.
In New York and many other cities, blacks were still unwelcome in some clubs,
restaurants and neighborhoods. Jim Crow in the north wasn't law, but it was
Jazzy music ends, guitar music begins
Smith: Blacks who stayed in the south grew increasingly restless with Jim Crow,
and increasingly ready to speak out. Lillian Smith of Wilmington North Carolina
worked as a domestic for a white family.
Smith: The little boy, he had heard somebody say nigger. He was about six years
old. And so when I was baby-sitting with him one night, he said, "You're
a nigger, aren't you?" I said, "I beg your pardon? What did you say,
child?" He said, "I said you're a nigger, aren't you?" So I sat
him down and I said, "Listen, let me tell you something, " I said,
"now I'm sure you heard this from an adult. Did you not?" He said,
"Yes. I heard my parents say it and I heard others say it." I said,
"Well, I want to tell you something. The word "nigger" really
refers to an act. Anybody can be a nigger if they commit a niggardly act. My
name is Lillian, and there's nowhere on my birth certificate that say I'm a
nigger. It does say I'm a Negro, but that's a white man's term. That's not a
term my family invented. And it wasn't one God invented." And they apologized
and so I stopped working for them. I told them, I said, "The atmosphere
has been tainted," and I said, "I don't no longer want to work for
you anymore. "
Smith: After World War One, blacks across the country got bolder about demanding
the rights of dignity and citizenship. But it was still potentially lethal to
do so in the South. For example, Southern whites used lynching and mob violence
to shut down voter registration campaigns. Then came World War Two. More than
a million blacks served, and they came home hungry for justice. Historian Darlene
Hine: World War Two looms as perhaps the most important moment in the 20th
century in the whole struggle bringing down Jim Crow. If they could die for
freedom abroad, they could die for freedom at home. And when they came home
hundreds of thousands of black men and women were determined that Jim Crow's
days were numbered.
Robinson: Their hope was in Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He came in with a program
helping those who were farthest down the ladder. And that gave African Americans
hope. That gave them the opportunity to realize that things can be better. This
is a chance for us to thrust forward. And that is why we decided, after the
war was over, that we will fight for civil rights and for the right to vote.
Smith: Amelia Robinson. In Columbia, Tennessee, the fight began just a few
months after the World War Two had ended. It was 1946, a mild February day in
the heart Jim Crow country.
Sounds of Columbia's main square
Smith: A 37-year-old black woman named Gladys Stephenson stopped at an appliance
store here on Columbia's main square to pick up her radio, which was being fixed.
Her 19-year-old son James was with her. He was just back from serving in World
War Two. Gladys and the appliance store clerk got into an argument about the
cost of the repairs. James intervened.
Stephenson: He said, "What you stop back here for boy, to get your teeth
knocked out?" I said, "Yeah, if that's what it takes," so I kept
walking and when I got to the door he hit me in the back of the head and I turned
around and grabbed him, smacked outside the door and hit him three times: bam!
bam! bam! Turn him loose, he fell through the window.
Smith: It was bad luck for the clerk that James Stephenson was a Navy boxing
champ. It was bad luck for the Stephensons that the clerk was the brother of
a local cop. Whites started gathering in the square at the news that a black
man had beaten a white man.
Kimes: At that time, you did something that you shouldn't do if you were black
they'd hang you.
Smith: Edward Kimes was in the middle of events that day.
Kimes: We got wind that the whites were going to come and get him. So the bird
got around, if you got guns come down, we'll just have to have a showdown. Got
tired of being kicked around.
Smith: More than a hundred men gathered in the black part of town, which whites
like Bernard Stofel called Mink Slide.
Stofel: I was a policeman back in '46. They got to shooting down at the Slide,
on east 8th Street. And they shot out all the streetlights, it done got dark
then. And we said well we better go down there and talk to them boys. They were
shooting right up that sidewalk. And they got all four of us.
Smith: The police officers were shot but they all recovered. James Stephenson
slipped away to a northbound train. Tennessee state patrolmen stormed the black
neighborhood the next morning, arresting people and destroying black businesses.
The news made national headlines, black veterans in the south were fighting
back against Jim Crow.
Music: Can't you hear that train whistle blow? Can't you hear that train whistle
blow? Can't you hear that train whistle blow? Lord I wish that train wasn't
Smith: One returning black serviceman met Jim Crow at the train station. Navy
vet Otis Pinkert earned three promotions in the war, but on the train ride home
he was forced to sit in the Jim Crow car. He was furious. When he got to Tuskegee,
Otis Pinkert turned that anger into action. By himself, he started a protest
at a local store that sold primarily to black people, but wouldn't employ any.
Pinkert: I walked the picket line by myself. I did it for about two weeks.
And closed it up. Closed Big Bear up. That was the name of the business, Big
Bear. So two guys from Montgomery came up, said, "Mr. Pinkert, what can
we do to stop this situation?" I said, "All I want is one black man
in that business. That's all I want." They said, "Well, okay Mr. Pinkert,
we'll go to Montgomery and talk to the boss and we'll be back tomorrow."
I said, "Okay." So when they came back I thought to myself, shoot,
I don't want no assistant manager, I said, I want a manager. So when they came
back they said, "Okay Mr. Pinkert we're ready, you find us one we'll hire
him." I said, "No I'm not ready. I want a black manager." They
say, "What?" Said, "We got to go to Montgomery again and talk
with the boss." So they went to Montgomery again and when they came back
they said, 'Find us one and we'll hire him."
Smith: One victory by one man in one town.
Music: slow guitar
Smith: Year by year, African Americans took on segregation. They fought Jim
Crow laws in the state and federal courts, they resisted in public theaters
and on buses, and by the 1960s they took their protest to the streets. The civil
rights movement was at full strength and Jim Crow was collapsing. The Voting
Rights Act and Civil Rights Act of the mid-1960s marked the end of the era.
It had taken 80 years to bring Jim Crow down. For American RadioWorks, I'm Stephen
Amos: You're listening to "Remembering Jim Crow", a special report
from American RadioWorks, the documentary project of Minnesota Public Radio
and NPR News. I'm Deborah Amos. Coming up: how whites in one Louisiana town
Man's Voice: You wouldn't have dreamed of shaking hands, my father or me would
not have dreamed of shaking hands with a black person.
Woman's Voice: I think they were happier than the white people. Because nothing
Amos: "Remembering Jim Crow" is made possible in part with a grant
from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Major funding for American RadioWorks
comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. To learn more about the
Jim Crow era and see photographs from the period, visit our website at American
RadioWorks-dot-org. You'll also find information on ordering a tape copy of
this program. That's on the web at American RadioWorks-dot org.
Amos: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
Music: Louisiana blues
Amos: This is "Remembering Jim Crow", a special report from American
RadioWorks. I'm Deborah Amos. By the early 20th century, every state in the
South had laws in place to segregate and restrict the lives of blacks.
V1: Alabama: It shall be unlawful for a Negro and white person to play together
or in company with each other at any game of pool or billiards.
V2: Georgia: No colored barber shall serve as a barber to white women or girls.
V1: Florida: the schools for white children and the schools for
Voices overlap in reading laws ending with "Are hereby forever prohibited"
Amos: In the bayous of south Louisiana, Jim Crow was rooted in sugar cane fields
and rice farms. A plantation aristocracy ruled there until the 1960s. Blacks
in the region recall harsh times. As for the whites, Anthropologist Kate Ellis
spent a year in Iberia Parish and found that they remember the Jim Crow past
in a very different way.
Ellis: Most of the older whites I spoke to remember growing up in a culture
where there was simply no question, blacks were inferior and treated as such.
Others remember segregation as a more benign arrangement.
Laveux: All the black people who lived in a small town like this, they knew
everybody knew everybody else. Except we didn't know the colored peoples that
well but I think they all knew the white people .
Laveux: And looked up to the white people I'll tell you.
Ellis: They did.
Laveux: Because they knew that's where their bread was buttered. You know the
white people helped them. Gave them work and everything.
Ellis: This tape is with Mary Laveaux. She asked me not use her real name. Mary's
lived her entire 91 years in Iberia Parish and belongs to one of the old plantation
families. She doesn't remember blacks resenting the rules of Jim Crow. For example,
she says blacks chose to sit in the back of the bus.
Laveux: It was just part of their, they understood that it looks like. I don't
think that the white people were cruel to them and made them do that.
Ellis : Yeah.
Laveux: But they felt that was part of them.
Ellis: So it wasn't something that white people were doing to
Laveux: The white people I think were good to them.
Ellis: Mary was raised by a black nanny and surrounded by black tenants on
her family's plantation. She says the black people who worked for her family
were poor, but happy.
Laveux: They had a little church back there and they would sing the most beautiful
gospel music, sing you know. They had beautiful voices, some of them they'd
sing and sometimes we'd go there at night and park about a block away just to
listen, they just had that rhythm.
Ellis: So it was kind of joyous, the music.
Laveux: Oh yes. Oh they would play the music and dance. And their way of life,
I think they were happier than the white people. Because nothing worried them,
you know? Some white people, they were worried of sometimes about losing their
land or trying to make things go, you know, they were the leaders. But the black
people, nothing bothered them.
Sounds of the bayou
Ellis: New Iberia lies deep in south Louisiana's bayou country, where the night
is filled with sounds from the swamps. It's a small town, just 35-thousand people.
About a third of them are black. This part of the state is called the sugar
bowl, because sugar cane is the primary crop. On the main street, you can still
find some of the antebellum homes that belonged to the plantation gentry, complete
with white columns and towering oaks. Some of the homes belong to the great
grandchildren of the plantation owners.
Barrow: Well, my name is Barrow. Leonard Barrow Junior. And my connection with
New Iberia is I was born here in 1917 on East Main Street. It was very segregated
without a doubt. From the time I grew up, you had white folks and black folks.
And basically the black folks worked for the white folks. They sort of lived
in their part of town and we lived in our part of town and
Ellis: And why was it that way?
I guess if you didn't grow up here it would be difficult
to understand, it was two separate worlds. You know, you just didn't become
part of their world, you didn't go into their houses, they worked in your house,
but it was just the way it was, it had always been that way.
Leonard Barrow is a retired fighter pilot who returned to New Iberia after
a long military career. He comes from a planter family that always had close
contact with blacks, first as slave owners, then as employers, always as superiors.
Barrow: God, there was a fellow who worked for my father for a number of years
in the rice field and we ran into each other one day and boy he came and threw
his arms around me you know it uh
now this is another funny thing, you
wouldn't have dreamed of shaking hands back in those days.
Ellis: The black man you ran into or your father?
Barrow: My father or me would not have dreamed of shaking hands with a black
Ellis: Some whites that I talked to say blacks were never treated poorly during
Jim Crow, they were always treated well, they had their place and we had ours
but they were always treated well. I'm wondering how you see that? If you would
LB: Well, being treated well has a pretty broad spectrum of uh
definitely lived at a much lower standard. Much lower. Many of the houses didn't
have running water, many of the houses didn't have electricity, heat was rudimentary,
of course nobody had air conditioning.
Ellis: Do you remember any whites openly questioning the way things were?
Barrow: Certainly not! Heavens no! Why? Why would they have questioned it?
I mean, this is they way it was. You grew up, you know it's kinda like, I'm
a Catholic because my parents were Catholics. Never questioned why. That's the
way it was.
Ellis: What about blacks? Do you remember blacks ever uh
Barrow: raising the question?
Barrow: No. No, they knew their place.
Ellis: We are in the New Iberia public library and we are looking at a 1940
city directory um from New Iberia, so it goes by street and it lists every resident
as well as every business. And by every resident who is colored, or black, and
also by every black owned business there is a little 'c' denoting their race,
colored. And not surprisingly, when you look at the people who's name has a
little 'c' in front of them, many of them are maids or laborers, a few teachers
a cook, a seamstress, a brick mason, again cook, cook, pastor.
Music: Simple guitar blues
Ellis: Whites sometimes had close relationships with blacks who worked for
their families. Henry Dauterive is also from the planter aristocracy. As a boy,
Henry says he learned one of his sharpest lessons about the color line in his
Dauterive: We had a handyman, chauffeur, aide-de-camp, whatever, who worked
for my father and he often sat in the kitchen waiting his orders and I loved
him to death. He taught me how to ride a bicycle, he taught me how to shoot
a gun. And, so I ran in the kitchen at age seven and I jumped in his lap and
I kissed him on the mouth. Well, he sat there and then he tried to explain to
me that I couldn't do this. He tried to say, "You can't kiss black folks."
It just puzzled me.
Ellis: Did you ever ask your parents about that?
Dauterive: My parents. When I was 16, I went off to Tulane to college, and
the world became much, much larger and I came back and I had the temerity to
tell my grandfather that it was possible for a black person to be as smart as
a white person. Now that was also crossing the line. He knew that they were
inferior, he knew that they were servants, he knew that they were ignorant and
dirty and diseased and everything. He was not happy.
Ellis: Henry Dauterive is a tall, silver-haired man with a genteel, patrician
manner. In the 1960s, he used his position as a prominent New Iberia lawyer
to try to get a black school principal in the local Kiwanis club. He tried to
bring blacks and whites together in the Catholic Church. But Henry makes it
clear that he never crossed the color line very far.
Dauterive: I don't want to sound as though I were something really good. Because
I recognized this and perhaps cared a little bit more, but it was only a little
Ellis: When some whites look back on the Jim Crow period, they often describe
blacks as apathetic, as not being interested in furthering themselves or getting
a better education.
Dauterive: It is an attitude that the whites have that the black is inferior.
I am not at all sure that they're wrong. Today even. I'm not at all sure. In
fact, I tend in that direction to think it, because I've watched it now with
interest for so many years
Ellis: Henry says that a lifetime of observing blacks, as legal clients and
employees, has convinced him he was naïve at 16 to think black people could
be as smart as whites. As Henry sees it, blacks are inherently less intelligent
and less motivated than whites. This is precisely the same view of African Americans
that his parents' generation used to justify Jim Crow.
Music: Guitar blues
Ellis: I interviewed nearly 50 older white people in the parish. Most of them
think like Henry Dauterive and Leonard Barrow: they recognize the injustice
of Jim Crow but feel no particular remorse. It's just the way it was, they say.
On the other hand, Deanne and Smitty Landry say they do regret being so oblivious
to the hardship blacks faced.
Smitty Landry: I think that when we were growing up we did have the attitude
that they are happy, they are getting along, and you know why should we care
about them or sense the injustice and uh unfairness.
Deanne Landry: No one ever ran over with a casserole.
S. Landry: In the way that they were treated.
D. Landry: My regret is the sort that when they were at home at night after
they worked for mother, I didn't care if they had heat I didn't care if they
had food, that was not at all on my mind.
S. Landry: We didn't think about that.
D. Landry: Did they have clothes? No.
Ellis: Virtually all older whites I spoke to agree that Jim Crow is dead and
gone. Racism may not have vanished, but it no longer hold blacks down, they
say. The Landry's add that people who call attention to past discrimination
are just prolonging the problem.
S. Landry: I draw the line in the belief that we should not look at the past
and create a sense of paranoia over what has happened I think that the blacks.
D. Landry: We have to go on.
S. Landry: I think that we should you know put that behind us and then say
"Okay, you are what you make of yourself now, you're given we have given
you all the opportunities you can have, do not belabor the question of what
happened in the past, and how bad it is and we should give you things."
I think that is a psychologically defeating attitude.
D. Landry: It is, it is.
S. Landry: It will hold that whole race black if you keep back.
D. Landry: It didn't happen to them actually it happened to their ancestors.
S. Landry: You need retribution because of all of this, well I don't think
that that's, that's healthy.
Ellis: The Landry's admonish blacks not to dwell on the past, yet many white
southerners dwell on their past, especially their Confederate ancestry. Some
are nostalgic about family fortunes lost during the civil war. Leonard Barrow,
for one, says he never got a chance to enjoy the comforts of being from the
Barrow: I didn't inherit enough to buy my wife's Oldsmobile when my folks finally
died, but my grandparents' grandparents had three plantations over on the Mississippi
river. I don't know how many slaves they had. They were awful nice, you know
you'd go hunting, "Boy, clean those ducks", you know "Skin that
deer" uh, "Shine my shoes, " I believe I could have gone for
that. Yeah I think you could have too.
Ellis: During my year in Iberia Parish, I also spoke to a lot of older African
Americans about Jim Crow. One man often wept as he recalled the days when white
people called him "boy" even though he was a grown man. Memories of
Jim Crow are sharp as ever among older blacks. In fact, some don't see Jim Crow
as dead at all. They told me that many whites in Iberia Parish still view blacks
as inferior and that modern-day racism is a direct legacy of Jim Crow. For many
of the whites I talked to, that legacy doesn't exist. They say Jim Crow ended
40 years ago and is better off forgotten.
Amos: Kate Ellis is an anthropologist from Boston. She's completing a book
on how blacks and whites recollect the Jim Crow years in south Louisiana. "Remembering
Jim Crow" was written and produced by Stephen Smith. Coordinating Producer
Sasha Aslanian. Project directors Nancy Fushan and Matt Weiland. Production
support from Stephanie Curtis, Rachel Miller, Seth Lind and Tina Tennesen. The
editor was Deborah George. The executive producer for American RadioWorks is
Bill Buzenberg. I'm Deborah Amos. "Remembering Jim Crow" is based,
in part, on the oral history project, "Behind the Veil: Documenting African
American Life in the Jim Crow South." Additional recordings by American
RadioWorks. "Behind the Veil" is a project of The Center for Documentary
Studies at Duke University. Directors of "Behind the Veil" are Duke
University historians, William Chafe, Raymond Gavins, and Robert Korstad. Research
assistance for this program was provided by Keisha Roberts, Paul Ortiz and Iris
Tillman-Hill. Consultants included Darlene Clark Hine, Leon Litwack and Kenneth
Warren. Funding was provided in part by a grant from the national endowment
for the humanities. Major funding for American RadioWorks comes from the Corporation
for Public Broadcasting. To learn more about segregation in America and to order
tapes of this program, visit our website at American RadioWorks-dot-org. This
documentary is also available in a book and CD set titled "Remembering
Jim Crow" published by the New Press. American RadioWorks is the documentary
project of Minnesota Public Radio and NPR News.
Amos: This is NPR, National Public Radio.