Posts tagged segregation
I occasionally hear stories told about traveling across the country in the pre-Civil Rights Act years and the odd manifestations of racial segregation that would be encountered.
My family, always frequent travelers between our home bases in Iowa, Arizona, and Texas, has lots of these observations. Just recently, my uncle told me about his a trip through Texas as a kid. While stopping for a bathroom break at a gas station, he found the nearest restroom in an outbuilding, but missed the “colored only” sign at the entrance. Using the toilet before checking for toilet paper was a mistake. He went inside the building to ask for the paper, but was met with a chuckling clerk. “These restrooms over here are for you,” he informed as he pointed to the white-only men’s room which were found to have no shortage of toilet paper.
At Brown v Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka Kansas, I found a map which showed racial segregation laws by state. It is a fascinating map, and I have re-created it below.
The map shows the states which had mandated segregation – mostly in the Deep South, as well as permissible segregation (Kansas, among several others).
Some states were progressive enough to have outlawed any segregation (northeast, Midwest, some western states), but many others had no laws addressing it at all.
Do you have any personal stories about encounters with racial segregation that you could share?
While visiting family in Kansas over Independence Day weekend his year I had the chance to visit two national park sites that were important in the struggle for racial equality and economic survival for African Americans. Kansas seems an odd place for these sites since it is a predominately white Midwestern state, but important events in the Civil Rights battle occurred here too.
In Topeka, we found Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site. The park is housed in one of Topeka’s old elementary schools just south of downtown. Inside, the story of the struggle for African American civil rights is told through videos and displays tracing events from slavery through the 1960s demonstrations and court battles.
The museum gives a good overview of the topic. The wall displays are high-quality and graphically interesting, and the multimedia presentations are great for providing a more impactful presentation. In one room, we walked through a hall of large video monitors running film clips of police beating demonstrators, white people screaming racial slurs while children are led into a newly-desegregated school, among other distressing images.
While serving well as a national civil rights museum, the park falls short by not weaving its local story in to the broader tale. Little is provided about the actual Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case other than a series of five minute videos covering the five cases that were concurrently argued before the court. And we saw nothing that explained why the school building we were walking through was important and why it was selected to house this museum.
Later, while on our trip back across the Great Plains of western Kansas to Colorado, we stopped to visit Nicodemus National Historic Site, a historic black farming settlement on the western Kansas high plains. Nicodemus was promoted in the late 1870s to recently freed slaves in the South (Kentucky mostly) who were stuck in the sharecropping trap. For five dollars, those who settled here could have 160 acres and a mule in the “Promised Land.”
Those who followed the promoters west were usually disappointed upon arriving to find the barren and dry high plains on which their new town was being raised. Adding to disappointment was the realization that they would be living in sod houses made from patches of grass and dirt.
Some kept moving on to other places, but most stayed and learned how to farm and live on the plains. The town grew steadily until being passed by the railroad which was built five miles to the south.
Nicodemus has been in a slow decline since that time. There are only thirty people remaining here in 2011. The National Park Service is trying to preserve some of the more important buildings in town – the St Francis Hotel, the A.M.E. and Baptist churches, the grammar school, and the Township Hall – as parts of this newish national park site.
I look forward to seeing more of the structures open and more tours available on a future visit.
For more information:
Brown v. Board of Education NHS