Desegregation of South: were any white businesses ahead of the curve in serving African-Americans?

What I’ve learned from my study of history is that there are always outliers and surprises. Things that don’t fit the trend. So, although I’ve never heard of any*, I’m curious if there were any of the following white-run businesses**:

• Business that were never segregated in the first place (I know there were some places that would serve African-Americans “out back”; I’m not talking about that).

• Businesses such as restaurants that, in response to sit-ins, simply served the African-American protestors instead of refusing them.

• Businesses that desegregated long before social or legal pressure was enough to force them to do so.

Thanks for any information!

*In the book Black Like Me, I remember the author saying the Catholic Church didn’t discriminate, and he was able to cash a check at a Catholic bookstore, so that might be an exception.

**In the same book, the author talked about businesses run by white people for black people in black areas, often in an exploitative manner. Obviously, I’m not talking about that.

Not exactly but interesting…

I was recently listening to a podcast about Sears, which is a Chicago company but their catalogs had a far reach. The interviewee on the podcast, who was writing a history of Sears, pointed out that their catalog business was the perfect way for people of color to shop on equal grounds with white people.

But also the Sears president from 1927 to 1933, Julius Rosenwald, was very active and generous in the area of educating black children in the south. His philanthropy started as early as 1906.

I thought segregation was imposed by state law, so businesses didn’t have a choice?

No, segregation was mostly a matter of cultural sanctions. The laws did not ban blacks from using white facilities completely, but in certain specified situations. Bathrooms were segregated, e.g. Blacks had to sit in separate railroad cars, the issue in Plessy v Ferguson. They could use the same buses but only sit in the back, as in the Montgomery bus law that Rosa Parks defied. Restaurants in most places could seat blacks. Those who staged sit-ins at places like Woolworth’s couldn’t be charged with breaking a law against using the restaurant, other charges had to be found.

Because of that there must of been many places where blacks and whites mingled peacefully. There simply weren’t two stores of the same kind available in the majority of small towns so blacks - and their money - could be excluded entirely. True, in many stores the custom was for blacks to use a back door or have separate hours or at least let white customers be served first. But because everybody “knew their place” and knew the consequences of defiance, actual laws were seldom passed. That way southerners could say truthfully they hadn’t made anything illegal. It was this attitude far more than the actual laws that made the Jim Crow era so insidious.

Thanks -I was obviously misinformed.

Back in the day, there was an herbal cancer therapy called the “Hoxsey treatment”, after its inventor, that was run out of American clinics which employed licensed medical personnel. They relocated to Tijuana after the therapy was banned in the States in 1960; the inventor, Harry Hoxsey, was admittedly a lout in his personal life BUT he hired and treated blacks and women on an equal basis with white men.

His main clinic was in Dallas, Texas, and many, many times, they would see black people circling the building, and they would knock on the front door and ask where the “colored” entrance was. They were told, “This is it - come on in” and then they would ask where the colored restrooms and drinking fountains were. Again, they were told, “They’re the doors that say ‘Men’ and ‘Women’.”

I posted this link on another website a while back, and one of the posters said that all she saw on first glance was a classy, elegantly dressed woman.

Tut tut, Exapno. Must of? I’m sure it was a brainfart because I know you to be far too intelligent a poster to have done it consciously but as this is the Dope I thought I’d better point it out. :slight_smile:

A number of states (or cities) had laws banning restaurants from serving blacks and whites in the same room.

For example:

Birmingham, Alabama: “It shall be unlawful to conduct a restaurant or other place for the serving of food in the city, at all which white and colored people are served in the same room, unless such white and colored persons are effectually separated by a solid partition extending from the floor upward to a distance of seven feet or higher, and unless a separate entrance from the street is provided for each compartment.”

This site lists similar laws in Georgia and South Carolina.

I know that’s not inconsistent with what you said, but I wanted to point out that there were all sorts of legal restrictions that would have interfered with being “ahead of the curve.” In addition to the obvious social pressure.

(Curiously, Louisiana mandated separate ticket offices for circuses… which seems oddly specific).

Interesting, this is the first I’ve heard of the travel guides nearwildheaven linked to. Now I’m wondering if any white travelers made an effort to get those guides, because they didn’t want to patronize racist businesses, either.

That’s not quite true. Sitters-in could always be easily prosecuted under ostensibly race-neutral criminal trespass statutes. What is true is that the Woolworth’s sit-in in Greensboro was against de facto rather than de jure segregation; Woolworth’s lunch counter policy in North Carolina was based on “public custom” rather than a law.

Broadly speaking, segregation in privately-owned public accommodations was a legal matter in the Deep South and a matter of custom elsewhere, whereas segregation of publicly-owned facilities was nearly always a matter of law wherever you went. The school district in Brown v. Board of Education was the district of Topeka, Kansas, not a place one normally associates with segregation. Florida went so far as to prohibit “mixed” education even by private schools in 1895.

The segregated railcars in Plessy v. Ferguson were mandated by Louisiana law, rather than privately imposed.

Not a business, exactly, but Ingrid Bergman refused to perform at certain theaters in DC in 1946 after discovering they were segregated (some had integrated by then, bowing to NAACP pressure) and was heavily criticized in the popular press thereafter.

That wasn’t my understanding of the situation, so I’d appreciate some clarification if I could please get it.

My understanding was that it was similar to how handicapped seats are handled on today’s buses–anyone could take any seat they want, but when someone more “worthy” of the seat got on, those who didn’t have the right to sit there had to move.

That’s why, per my understanding of the situation, Rosa Parks was doing nothing wrong by sitting in the seat until a white passenger requested she move. It was that refusal to move, not her sitting there in the first place, that got her in trouble.

Like I said, that’s how I understand the situation. If I’m wrong, I’d greatly appreciate edification.

According to Browder v. Gayle (which found such laws unconstitutional), the Montgomery bus law provided:

I assume that the bus had a white section and a black section and (I would assume) that a black person could sit in the white section if (and only if) there were no whites on the bus.

The Montgomery bus policy was to reserve the first four rows for whites, and expand the white section if necessary. Blacks could sit in the first row immediately after the last white passenger (they could not sit across the aisle), and in any subsequent row. When a white passenger boarded and the bus was full, the “white section” would be expanded and the black passengers had to move (or even disembark if there was no standing room).

Thanks for your examples!

These laws, etc., are reminding me of just how much segregation sucked. Maybe it was different for white people then, but I can’t imagine feeling comfortable in a situation where people are being treated differently than I (I’m white). It also sounds like an extremely inefficient way to run society.

Until my retirement I worked at an industrial facility in North Carolina that was originally constructed in the early 1950’s. As we made modifications to the infrastructure and pulled out the construction drawings there they were, big as life, White and Colored rest room facilities and locker rooms. Luckily for us, about the time that segregation became illegal, women were entering the workforce, so it was just a matter of painting over the “Colored” signs and adding “Women”. I don’t know what use they made of the urinals, but women are resourceful, so I’m sure they came up with something.

My mother was a teacher in a Catholic school in La Grange, GA - the Catholic schools had either never been segregated or integrated early, and the public school districts sent observers to her school to see how on earth they managed to have an integrated school.

I was only half listening unfortunately but on a jazz program Saturday night the announcer told the story of a jazz band that was mostly black, with one exception. When the police showed up with an arrest warrant for violation of the segregation, they all fled out the back. There were laws and the police were enforcing them.

Even in the north, there were such laws. When my parents were looking for a house in the Philadelphia suburbs in 1955, there was at least one, Yeadon, in which it was illegal to sell to anyone but a white Christian (I am not sure if Catholics) and the courts would enforce this.

Yes and no. Having black people stand and wait for their food at lunch counters didn’t present any efficiency issues. Nor did requiring them to sit at the back of the bus, or in separate compartments on trains (so long as you could kick them out of their areas whenever there were too many white people for the available space).

Providing separate black schools was inefficient, but most authorities avoided that problem by failing to actually fund them.

As it happens, the 1960 Nashville lunch-counter sit-ins are a featured article on Wiki today: Nashville sit-ins - Wikipedia

You can now see and even sit in the restored Rosa Parks bus: Rosa Parks Bus - The Henry Ford

I did it, and so did this guy: