Your Experience With Segregation

In another thread, we talked about past social norms that we cannot imagine being in place today. The one I noted was segregation in America - a few other folks felt the same.

Having grown up in Ohio in the 80’s I am pretty far removed from having experienced physical segregation of whites and blacks in America. My parents grew up here and other than being around during the Civil Rights era, they do not have any experience with it either.

Does anyone have any stories that can help explain what living in a segregated society is like? Where there’s different water fountains, pools, schools, restaurants etc. for people of different ethnicity or color. Where it was even more frowned upon to date or marry someone of a different ethnicity or color. Where people of different ethnicity or color were considered a different class of citizen.

I’d be most interested in stories from America but I realize we have a lot of folks from different countries here, and in some of those countries these standards existed even more recently than in America, so all stories are appreciated.

Erm…that’sa tough one, in the US. I mean if you were asking about racism that’d be one thing.

I might tell you about the untouchables in India. But what I can mainly tell you is…no one ever talked about them to me. You see what a different class they are? They weren’t even mentioned in polite company. The first person who mentioned them to me was my aunt, who was telling me what a nice person my grandfather was, since he deigned to talk to one, and my grandmother, who bandaged one up when she’d (the untouchable) been beaten by her (own) husband. :eek:

As for the US, I’ll leave that to other Dopers to answer, as I’m sure there are people who remember. But thankfully formal segregation seems to be receding into the past now. Let’s hope it stays that way!

Anaamika - how does one get classified as an “untouchable”? If it’s just by birthright, where did it originate?

They are more formally called Dalits (link to a Wiki page.)

We are all members of some caste or other, and the castes stem from the varnas, as the link says. The varna is a part of the body of a divinity. So they were not made from God, apparently.
I don’t really know how it originated or how somoene pointed at certain families and said “You are Dalit”. It seems even more subtle than the black/white thing in the West, or at least much older. There are historians on the Dope that might know better than I do.

They are traditionally relegated to the filthiest jobs, and as I said, every effort was made tokeep me as unaware of their exstence as possible. And others. They are more accepted into society but now it’s like don’t ask don’t tell…we certainly never talk about them. I ask my Mamaji (mother’s brother) about his stint in the army, about him running away from home to join said Army, about his injury, but I never thought to ask him about this. He’s fairly modern though and probably would talk to me about it, if I were to ask.

I went to first grade at a segregated school, there was a separate school for black kids. Starting the second grade, our school included blacks. Pretty much just like first grade, we knew most of the kids anyway. I was too young to know much about it, just that the blacks went to Carver Center before they started going to our school. IIRC, there were just 2 elementary schools affected since literally all the blacks lived in areas that were serviced by these schools (at that time). I don’t think there was any busing of blacks to the other elementaries, just to the high school and junior highs that were across town. All in all no big deal from the perspective of second graders.

My father is from Chicago, and when he initially got out of the Great Lakes Assoc. Naval School he went to Groton, CT, thendirectly down to Newport News. This wa sin the 50’s. He had known about segregation and seen some of it in Chi-town but when we arrived in Virginia he was amazed at the separate water fountains, lavatories, etc…etc… He mentioned to me that he’d been in a number of fights with folks who treated African American citizens as second class. Not fist fight mind you, but arguements. I remember him saying there is no limit to human ignorance in this world…no limit at all.

I was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1954. I’m white. I lived in the northeast corner of the city in a then all white section called Gardenville. The only black people I saw in my neighborhood were shoeshine boys on the commercial street, trash collectors riding on the back of the truck (the drivers were always white) and the guys called street arabs. These were guys who drove horse-drawn wagons up and down the residential streets selling fresh fruit, vegetables and seafood. On the rare occasions when my parents would take me downtown, I saw “whites only” signs on restaurants and water fountains. If we went to a movie downtown, the “colored people” had to sit in the balcony. There was a local teen dance show on television, the Buddy Deane show, that had one day per week or month when black kids were allowed on. The rest of the time it was all white. There was an amusement park in Baltimore in those days called Gwynn Oak Park. Despite the fact that it was within a mile or two of Pennsylvania Avenue, the center of black culture in Baltimore then, the park was strictly segregated. I believe that there was one day per summer that was reserved for blacks only. I had one conversation with a black person before the age of fourteen, with a co-worker of my father’s whom I met on a visit to the shipyard where he worked. I didn’t have a black friend until I went to high school outside of my neighborhood.

OK, here’s one for you about the first black person I ever noticed that still makes me cringe when I think of it and I’m 52 now. When I was in first grade I attended school in (I think) Blytheville Arkansas and my teacher was three weeks older than God. (Actually maybe 55 or so. :stuck_out_tongue: ) Anyway, the schools were segregated. One fine morning, we had a little girl about our age come into the classroom to get something. A book, pencils, I don’t know what. Anyway, she was black, very dark and wearing a white dress, tall white socks and black shoes. I remember being startled by that. I didn’t dislike her or anything, it was just surprising. I had probably seen black people before but never really noticed them.

The part that makes me cringe is this: The teacher had her walk around the room so we could all touch her hair while explaining that “Black people have wool instead of regular hair.” I forget the exact wording but that was the gist of it.

In today’s context, it sounds catastrophically horrible but as I remember, the little girl enjoyed the attention and we all thought it was a pretty interesting and cool thing to grow “wool” on your head.

The thing I remember most is just seeing her as someone with a difference. Not better or worse, just interestingly different.

I hope that is the kind of thing you were looking for.


Hey, did you know this girl named Tracey Turnblatt?

Not me, but my father who is actually white but had dark hair when he had hair, olive skin and a not really narrow nose. He was refused service in a white’s only restaurant in the South back in the early 50’s.

I grew up in Illinois and there were no black people at all where I lived. We went to visit relatives in the South (North Carolina I think; must have been about 1953 or so) and there was a sign on the door that said white only. I asked my mom what it meant. She said black people couldn’t come in there. (The way she said it made me think it was a bad rule but I didn’t know why.) Then I saw a lady clearing tables and she was black. So I said, well, she’s here…and the lady said “y’all aren’t from here, are you?” Then all the grown-ups laughed. I decided they were all nuts.

My story wasn’t here in Georgia where I am now, but in Freeport, Illinois during in the sixties.

My parents were liberal Catholics back when there were such people, and we started visiting mass at the Black Catholic church on the “Black” side of the Pecatonica River. Pretty soon Black people stopped being invisible and my parents noticed sights such as Black guys being marched across downtown from the jail in the dead of winter to the courthouse wearing the summer clothes they had on when they were arrested because they were routinely denied bail. ANd they learned how their new Black friends couldn’t live on our side of the river, even if they could afford the better houses there.

So they performed volunteer work for the public defender’s office, and for fair housing advocacy groups. There’d be big meetings in our house with all kinds of white Liberals and Black Power types talking their heads off. The neighbor kids would ask us what those niggers were doing at our house, and a few times my mom closed all the curtains and told us not to play outside because she’d gotten threatening phone calls.

It all came to a head because my dad has always been a gun nut, and advocated the 2nd Ammendment to everyone, including Blacks. One night after we kids went to bed and my mom was still at work, some guy with guns came to the house and took my scared shitless dad for a ride out into the country. They also took his gun collection, of course.

He only saw one of their faces before they blindfolded him - the white woman who came to the back door saying she was being chased. But he always assumed it was Angela Davis & the Panthers that were behind it. I think it may have been the work of the cops, though, since it effectively soured my parents and a lot of their white friends on the Civil Rights movment as well as removed the threat of my dad’s guns falling into the wrong hands. Because after all the later raids on the Panthers HQ’s, and among all the guns recovered from general crime none of his guns were ever found.

I was born in '55 and grew up in a suburb just outside Boston. When I was young the only black person I saw on a regular basis was a man who worked in the cleaners pressing clothes.

There was a black art teacher at our junior high that taught both me and my sister. She was terrific. I learned later that even though she taught in the city, she couldn’t live there. There was no law, but there was an unofficial red-line that blocked blacks from buying or renting houses. This started to change by the time I was in high-school.

I am 46 - I grew up in Jax, FL.

I distinctly remember a white woman parking her car in the A&P parking lot. There was a black man in the car with her - sitting alone in the back seat. I loudly demanded (as only a 7 year old can do) that my mom explain to me why that man was in the back seat and not in the front with the lady. My mother was mortified & shushed me. Of course, I later understood the social restrictions between blacks & whites (especially between black men & white women).

It still stands out for me after almost 40 years.


I was born in 1960 in North Mississippi. My mom told me that the hospital had one white wing and one black wing. There was only one heating system (this was February in the middle of an ice storm) and the black ladies were hollering “too hot” and the white ladies were hollering “too cold”.

We moved to South Carolina before I entered the first grade. Mother didn’t take us to town too much, so I don’t remember much about segregation there, except for one thing. When I was in the second semester of 3rd grade, the teacher explained to us that next year, because of the desegregation order, black children would be going to school with us and that we should treat them just the same as we did each other - that they were no different than we were.

Moved back to Mississippi for the fourth grade. School was delayed several weeks in the Spring because the state was fighting the desegregation order. I remember Mother being furious that we were kept out of school that long. Part of the problem was the dismal condition of the schools that the blacks had been attending. There was some hasty repairing and fixing up so that the buildings wouldn’t fall down around our ears.

This was also the time when a lot of whites-only “academies” sprang up.

The actual integration itself went smoothly at the grade school, as Duke of Rat experienced. Things were much more tense at the junior high and high schools. My big sister came home one day telling of a fight between two boys which ended up with one stabbing the other in the hand with a fork (fight was in the cafeteria).

My mom and dad had friends at the University who remembered Meredith’s attempt to enroll and the ensuing riots. The minister at our church had publicly come out in favor of integration and had subsequently recieved many death threats. My mom was a very bleeding-heart liberal (from Missouri) and many times was called a “n****r-lover” to her face. She was a reporter for the newspaper and struggled for many years to get news from the black community “in the paper”.

The courthouse there used to have the separate restrooms and separate drinking fountains which slowly dissapeared. The Kream Kup (ice cream parlor) also used to have two sides, a black side and a white side. Years after integration, people used to have a hard time going in the “other” side. I guess old habits die hard.

One more item: a boy came to our school from Little Rock, Arkansas and told us about the riots that they had there. I remember thinking that we were luckier than they were - evidently there was a lot of violence in Little Rock.

That’s about all I remember for now.

No, but my homeboy John Waters definitely had the Buddy Deane show in mind when he wrote Hairspray. I think Buddy Deane had a cameo in the movie.

Different beaches, different train carriages, different movie theatres…the list goes on. This started to loosen up when I hit late teens, but before then, I couldn’t go into the regular movie chain, I went to a Coloured-only school (though some teachers were white), and only really made friends with anyone not Coloured when I joined Boy Scouts.

People of colour were forcibly removed from mixed neighbourhoods. In a couple of cases of really integrated neighbourhoods (District 6 etc) both blacks and whites were moved, then the place was levelled. It’s still mostly fields now.

It was illegal. My wife and I would have been criminals in the old days. We would possibly have been locked up.

As recent as '94, but that was the end of a long process that started in the 80s.

Enlightening stories, all. Thank you - and keep them coming!

Gonna give a shout out to KlondikeGeoff, who I believe is the oldest member of the board. He might have some good stories too.

Even though I don’t remember this, it happened to me when I was just a baby. I was born in 1960 in Montgomery, Alabama. Both of my parents worked, and I had a black nanny named “Mary” - I have fond memories of her. My mother told me that when Mary needed to go somewhere - to the grocery store, whatever, either Mom or Dad would have to come home and take care of me. Mary couldn’t drive, so she used taxis for transportation. The “black” taxis wouldn’t take me for fear of being accused of kidnapping by some fool seeing a white baby in a “black” cab; and of course the “white” taxis wouldn’t take Mary.

I was born in the 80s so I have no direct experiances with segregation, but I do remember a story my grandmother told me. She lived in rural PA. There was one black family that lived in the area and the kids attended her school (early 40s). She was really good friends with the daughter. Her senior class trip was to Washington DC. Her friend wasn’t allowed to sit in the front of the bus with her own classmates. Grandma, not wanting her friend to have to sit by herself sat in the back with her. I don’t know how the school handled the accomdations issue.