My dad distinctly remembers a trip to the South sometime in the late '50’s, with his father insisting that he drink from the “colored” water fountains. My grandfather was no professional civil right activist - although he supported the movement - just an angry Jewish guy from Brooklyn, who had encountered too much racism during the War (all too often from Southerners) to be able to let this kind of thing slide.
What would have been the reaction to such behavior among mainstream whites? Was the attitude, “you’re white, so you can drink (or sit) wherever you want. It’s the Negros that must be subservient.” Or (as I assume), would such behavior be reacted to defiantly, since these people were messing up the rigid social stratification of the society?
I don’t really know, but suspect more of the latter. Remember that the rationalization was “separate but equal”, not “Negroes are subservient”. Messing around with social strictures (probably supposed to have been “agreed upon” between the races) would highlight the SBE rationalization as just that, an ugly rationalization for subjugating other human beings. IME, few things get people more irate than forcing them to think about things they’d really rather not think about.
My mother was born and raised in Brooklyn. When my father was drafted in WW II, he got sent to Camp Stewart in Georgia. When he was done my mother went down there, (without telling him.) She told me that she often used the “colored” water fountain - not to make a point, but she didn’t see why anyone could care. She did get glares from the locals. Never more than that, perhaps they thought Jews from NY were weird and not expected to participate in local culture. Anyhow her maiden name was Sherman, so maybe they were afraid of her.