Growing Up Jim Crow: How Black and White Southern Children Learned Race

Growing Up Jim Crow: How Black and White Southern Children Learned Race

Growing Up Jim Crow: How Black and White Southern Children Learned Race

Growing Up Jim Crow: How Black and White Southern Children Learned Race

Excerpt

As a white girl growing up in Virginia in the 1910s, Sarah Patton Boyle learned that she must always "talk a little down" to black people while insisting that they talk "up" to her. She learned that she must never call a black man "Mr." or a black woman "Mrs." She learned that she must never eat with a black person in her family's own dining room, although she might, out of graciousness, share a meal with a valued "Negro 'friend'" in the kitchen or on the back porch. "Day by day," as Boyle put it in her autobiography, these racial rules "grooved their way into my behavior, speech, thought." Blacks' cautious deference seemed to confirm the lessons she received from her parents and other whites, convincing her that most African Americans accepted whites' superiority and approved of "the Southern way of life." Had black opposition been more obvious in her sheltered world, she insisted, "I certainly would not have learned the rules so well, and probably would have rejected them much sooner. As it was, I patiently learned and believed them all." In this, Boyle compared herself to southern ladies of an earlier era who grew so accustomed to wearing corsets that their backs hurt without them. "Thus the confining stays of segregation molded my thoughts and behavior. Yet my heart was never quite bound."

This book is about how people's hearts do and do not become bound. Reading Boyle's autobiography, The Desegregated Heart, I became intrigued by the everyday rules of behavior that Boyle described as the "etiquette" of race relations in the segregated South. Because she focused on the minute details of how individuals stood, sat, ate, drank, walked, talked, and even made eye contact with one another, her descriptions brought a new immediacy to my understanding of a Jim Crow system that, as a white, middle-class, southern child of the 1970s, I had experienced only in its decline and with much of the blindness of my privileged social position. To know, as a point of fact . . .

Author Advanced search

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.