Debates about Confederate flags and statues tend to lead to a mention of the Jim Crow laws. Unless you lived in the South prior to 1965, you have not experienced legal segregation. Allow me to share my experiences.

In 1962, I attended AFROTC basic training in Florida. I boarded a bus in New York for the long ride to Fort Walton Beach, FL. As soon as we crossed into Virginia, all the Black folks on the bus moved to the back of the bus. There was no announcement, they simply knew what had to be done.

When we stopped for meals, there were separate bathrooms for White and Colored and a rattan divider at the lunch counter to separate the races. I was housed in a barracks with six other cadets. All of us were heading into our senior year of college and would be receiving an engineering degree. These were bright, hard-working individuals, and they were all from the South.

Despite being a Yankee, I was accepted since I was the only one in the room who could rise at 4:30 and wake up the others to prepare for our morning run. I developed a close friendship with one roommate from Mississippi State University. When we had a chance, I would talk with him about segregation and how it made no sense. When my logic caused him to be no longer able to defend his position, he would tell me that since I did not live there, I could not possibly understand.

I caught a ride back to New York at the end of training. We stopped for breakfast in Virginia. The sign said they reserved the right to serve who they wanted. Our waitress and the cook were black, only the cashier was white. We then passed a large road sign welcoming us to Klan Country.

In 1963 and 1964, I was stationed in Waco, TX. I would get a wonderful chicken meal at the Shack but a young Black officer with a college degree would have to line up at the colored take-out window in the back. There were colored bathrooms and water fountains. If I went to a movie off-base, there was a separate colored section.

You could easily discern the ethnicity of a neighborhood. Whites had paved streets and street lights, Black areas had lights without paved streets, and Mexican-American streets had no lights or pavement. To me this was un-American, and whites screamed, fought and even killed to preserve this way of life. Today there are folks who believe we should return to Jim Crow. I certainly did not put my life on the line over North Vietnam for a resurgence of Jim Crow.

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