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Saturday, November 19, 2005

More on the Fight Against Segregation in the 1940s 

Several decades ago (and even today) there was a myth that there was a single black community, and that if you talked to a preacher, an educator, and a sports figure, you could accurately gauge the one and only view of said community.

It ain't that simple, and it wasn't that simple during the Journey of Reconciliation bus rides of 1947 (and no, there wasn't a single white community either):

Before the Trailways bus left the station, Lynn was arrested for sitting in the second seat from the front. The bus driver was courteous but insistent. Lynn explained the Morgan decision quietly. The driver countered that he was in the employ of the bus company, not the Supreme Court, and that he followed company rules about segregation. He said aloud, so all passengers could hear: "Personally, I don't care where you sit, but I have my orders. Are you going to move?" Lynn said that he could not. The driver got the police. There were no threats nor abusive language. It took about an hour and a half to get a warrant for Lynn's arrest. The magistrate in Petersburg would not sign the warrant until the bus company attorney in Richmond had been called, and dictated the statement of the warrant over the telephone. The warrant read that Lynn was guilty of disorderly conduct for not obeying the reasonable request of the bus driver to move to the rear, in compliance with the company rules. The bus operator apologized for having to arrest Lynn....A Negro porter made the o­nly fuss when he boarded the bus. Looking at Lynn, he said, "What's the matter with him? He's crazy. Where does he think he is? We know how to deal with him. We ought to drag him off."...

...At Oxford, North Carolina, the driver sent for the police, who refused to make an arrest. Persons waiting to get o­n at Oxford were delayed for forty-five minutes. A middle-aged Negro schoolteacher was permitted to board and to plead with Rustin to move : "Please move. Don't do this. You'll reach your destination either in front or in back. What difference does it make?"...When Durham was reached without arrest, the Negro schoolteacher begged Peck not to use the teacher's name in connection with the incident at Oxford: "It will hurt me in the community. I'll never do that again."

Lynn and Nelson rode together o­n the double seat next to the very rear of the Trailways bus, and Houser and Roodenko in front of them. The bus was very crowded. The o­ne other Negro passenger, a woman seated across from Nelson, moved to the very rear voluntarily when a white woman got o­n the bus and there were no seats in front. When two white college men got o­n, the driver told Nelson and Lynn to move to the rear seat. When they refused o­n the basis of their interstate passage, he said the matter would be handled in Durham. A white passenger asked the driver if he wanted any help. The driver replied, "No, we don't want to handle it that way."...

Johnson and Rustin were in the second seat from the front o­n a Trailways bus. The driver, as soon as he saw them, asked them to move to the rear....Johnson and Rustin were arrested for refusing to move when ordered to do so. Peck, who was seated in about the middle of the bus, got up after the arrest, saying to the police, "If you arrest them, you'll have to arrest me, too, for I'm going to sit in the rear."...The conversation with the Trailways official indicated that the company knew there was an interracial group making a test. The official said to the police: "We know all about this. Greyhound is letting them ride. But we're not."

Johnson and Felmet were seated in front. The driver asked them to move as soon as he boarded. They were arrested quickly....The bus driver distributed witness cards to occupants of the bus. o­ne white girl said: "You don't want me to sign o­ne of those. I'm a damn Yankee, and I think this is an outrage." Rustin and Roodenko, sensing the favorable reaction o­n the bus, decided they would move to the seat in the front vacated by Johnson and Felmet. Their moving forward caused much discussion by passengers. The driver returned soon, and when Rustin and Roodenko refused to move, they were arrested also. A white woman at the front of the bus, a Southerner, gave her name and address to Rustin as he walked by her....

Taxi drivers standing around the bus station were becoming aroused by the events. o­ne hit Peck a hard blow o­n the head, saying, "Coming down here to stir up the niggers." Peck stood quietly looking at them for several moments, but said nothing. Two persons standing by, o­ne Negro and o­ne white, reprimanded the cab driver for his violence. The Negro was told, "You keep out of this."...After the bond was placed, Reverend Charles Jones, a local white Presbyterian minister, speedily drove the men to his home. They were pursued by two cabs filled with taxi men. As the interracial group reached the front porch of the Jones home, the two cabs pulled up at the curb. Men jumped out, two of them with sticks for weapons; others picked up sizable rocks. They started toward the house, but were called back by o­ne of their number. In a few moments the phone rang, and an anonymous voice said to Jones, "Get those damn niggers out of town or we'll burn your house down. We'll be around to see that they go." The police were notified and arrived in about twenty minutes. The interracial group felt it wise to leave town before nightfall....

Wright and Jack sat at the front of a Greyhound bus. Before the driver boarded, a redheaded soldier asked him if he was going to move Wright. The driver approached Wright and asked him politely, "Would you like to move?" Wright said he would not. The driver disappeared for fifteen minutes. Two Negroes in the rear of the bus discussed the situation audibly, saying, "They are going to get the police, and they'll probably hit him." The other said, "When in Rome, I believe in doing as the Romans do."...

Wright and Jack had reserved seats o­n an all-coach reserved train of the Louisville and Nashville railroad....Two conductors approached to collect the tickets. o­ne asked Jack if Wright were his prisoner. Learning they were friends, he told Wright that company rules meant he would have to move to the Jim Crow car. "This is the way it is done down here," he concluded. When Wright refused to move, he said he would be back later. When he came back he said, "If we were in Alabama, we would throw you out of the window."...A woman sitting in the second seat behind the men approached them after the conductor left, giving them her name and address and saying that they could call o­n her for help....

On three occasions when Negro members of the group protested discrimination by sitting in the front, other Negroes-a porter, a schoolteacher, and a day laborer-urged the resisters in very emotional terms to comply with the law. Their request was either the result of fear or, as in the case of the Negro porter, an attempt to ingratiate themselves with white authorities. Such reactions are to be expected in a caste system and represent the kind of personal degradation which ought to spur us on to eliminate caste.

One comment - the references to a "caste system" probably resulted from the participants' familiarity with Gandhi's activities in India.

White persons generally ignored Negroes riding in the front of buses or in the non-Jim Crow cars o­n trains until the bus drivers or train conductors raised the issue. We are of the opinion that in most cases if the bus drivers had not taken action, the passengers would have continued to ignore the Negroes sitting in the front of a bus or in coaches for whites. Between Statesville and Asheville, North Carolina, a clear statement from the driver explaining the Morgan decision quieted protesting white passengers.

But listen to this comment, which implies a caste system which the participants do not deny:

It is also true that taxi drivers, pool-room fellows, and idlers are likely to be in the groups which hang around bus terminals. Many of them depend o­n Jim Crow for personal status. No matter how poor they are, they can "feel better than the niggers."

Oh, and they were sexist too, I guess:

It appeared that women are more intelligently inquisitive, open for discussion, and liberal in their sentiments than men. o­n several occasions women not o­nly defended those who broke with Jim Crow, but gave their names and addresses, offering to act as witnesses. In appealing for aid in the psychological struggle within the bus o­ne might do well to concentrate o­n winning over women.

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

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