So i’m reading this book my dad got me for Christmas titled The Warmth of Other Suns written by Isabel Wilkerson. The novel tells the true stories of three black Americans (with no ties to one another) and their journeys from the South to the North during the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. This movement, known as the Great Migration, had thousands, maybe even millions of participants…including my own father. I mean, some of you probably have family members who were apart of this exodus as well…you just never bothered to ask or they never bothered to tell you.
Now, to truly understand the most powerful, unorganized yet perfectly executed migration in American history, we must understand what black people were seeking refuge from in the first place. This excerpt from The Warmth of Other Suns is the most perfect way to explain the dilemmas that colored people during the Jim Crow era had to deal with… everyday.
From: The Warmth of Other Suns
Chapter: The Stirrings of Discontent; pg. 44
“These are the facts of their lives:
There were days when whites could go to the amusement park and a day when blacks could go, if they were permitted at all. there were white elevators and colored elevators (meaning the freight elevators in back); white train platforms. There were white ambulances and colored ambulances to ferry the sick, and white hearses and colored hearses for those who didn’t survive whatever was wrong with them.
There were white waiting rooms and colored waiting rooms in any conceivable place where a person might have to wait for something, from the bus depot to the doctor’s office. A total of four restrooms had to be constructed and maintianed at significant expense in any public establishment that bothered to provide any for colored people: one for white men, one for white women, one for colored men, and one for colored women. In 1958, a new bus station went up in Jacksonville, Flordia, with two of everything, including two segregated cocktail lounges, “lest the races brush elbows over a martini,” The Wall Street Journal reported. The president of Southeastern Greyhound told the Journal, “It frequently costs fifty percent more to build a terminal with segregated facilities. But most southern businessmen didn’t dare complain about the extra cost. ”
There was a colored window at the post office in Pensacola, Florida, and there were white and colored telephone booths in Oklahoma. White and colored went to separate windows to get their license plates in Indianola, Mississippi, and two separate tellers to make their deposits at the First National Bank of Atlanta. There were taxicabs for colored people and taxicabs for whites in Jacksonville, Birmingham, Atlanta, and all of Mississippi.
Throughout the South, the conventional rules of the road did not apply when a colored motorist was behind the wheel. If he reached an intersection first, he had to let the white motorist go ahead of him. He could not pass a white motorist on the road no matter how slowly the white motorist was going and had to take extreme caution to avoid an accident because he would likely be blamed no matter who was at fault. In everyday interactions, a black person could not contradict a white person or speak unless spoken to first. A black person could not be the first to offer to shake a white person’s hand. A handshake could occur only if a white person so gestured, leaving many people having never shaken hands with a person of the other race. The consequences for the slightest misstep were swift and brutal. Two whites beat a black tenant farmer in Louise, Mississippi, in 1948, wrote historian James C. Cobb, because the man “asked for a receipt after paying his water bill.”
It was against the law for a colored and a white person to play checkers together in Birmingham. White and colored gamblers had to place their bet at separate windows and sit in separate aisles at racetracks in Arkansas. There were white parking spots and colored parking spots in Atlanta. In some courthouses in North Carolina, there was a white Bible and a black Bible to swear to tell the truth on.” (The Warmth of Other Suns)
What a petty society to live in. I am so happy I can pass a white guy on the road if he’s driving too damn slow… appreciate your freedoms please and remember there are people out there today who want to take them away from us… not just black people, but EVERYONE. Be Vigilant.