I have to take this post for a confession. I grew up in the 1950’s. Everything was either black or white. Since I had never known anything else, I never realized that anything was amiss.
For example, I never went to school with anyone of another race. Every child in all my classes and throughout the elementary school and middle school and high school was white. The entire staff at the school-teachers, lunchroom workers and custodians-were white. Everyone in my church was white. My Scout troop was white. I lived in a white world. Black students in grades 1-12 attended their own school. Students were bussed there every day from the city and the county.
My white world extended to grocery stores, doctor’s offices, and clothing stores. I saw black people in town but had no interactions at all with any other race. Never.
My grandfather worked for the railroad. He was a conductor. So we sometimes rode the train to visit him in Illinois. We would leave the train station in Marietta in the afternoon and arrive in Chicago the next morning. Well, we left from the white station. One end of the station was for whites. The other end was for blacks. Doors were labeled “Whites Only”. Water fountains were labeled. Blacks were not served at the drug store luncheonette. The theatre on the square had a separate entrance for the blacks. Their seating was above the balcony and they could reach this by standing in line on the sidewalk on the street beside the theatre. They could not purchase tickets at the ticket booth. “WhitesOnly”
When we were in the north visiting family, the separate but equal continued. Places served whites or they served blacks. It was not just a Southern thing. Apparently many regions of the country believed in separating the races. What is funny is that if you were Asian, you could eat with the whites. Or shop with them.
Unfortunately, separate but equal also was used to separate “different” children from “regular” children. I never had a single special education child in an class. These “different” children had their own “different” school.
My parents never talked about races or racial issues around the children. They just never did. They never used inappropriate racial terms. In fact, none of the parents that we knew ever did that.
Still, looking back over this period of time in my life, it is hard for me to believe that I never noticed anything was different.