Magazine article Ebony

Against the Grain in the Old South

Magazine article Ebony

Against the Grain in the Old South

Article excerpt

OVER the last 50 years, we have seen unprecedented progress in civil human rights in this country, although we still have a long way to go. I was in my third year at the Naval Academy in 1945, and very much aware of the separation and inequality between White and Black. In fact, this realization came much earlier, around the time I entered school.

My father's farm was in the small southern Georgia town of Archery. There were 27 families--two White and the rest Black--so most of my early childhood friends were Black. When I entered the segregated school in Plains with other white children from the area, I got my first unobstructed view of the racial inequality that existed at the time.

Certainly by today's standards my father was a segregationist, as were nearly all the White citizens of the area, so far as I knew. The only local person I knew who consciously disregarded the strict social separation of the races was my mother. As a registered nurse during the Depression years, she met most of the medical needs of our neighbors, both Black and White, who could not afford the doctor in town. When her Black friends came to our home, she encouraged them to come to the front door instead of the back, and, as much as their discomfiture would permit, she treated them as equals.

When I returned home in 1953 to run the family business, the race issue was beginning to fester in our community. As the Civil Rights Movement began momentum in the wake of the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision, Americus, our county seat, became a stronghold of the John Birch Society. Although our actions and comments would be considered cautious and innocuous today, back then we became known as too liberal by the prevailing standards. My mother was extremely outspoken, another beliefs, shared by Rosalynn and me, were well known in the community.

At that time, Georgia's top political leaders were promoting membership in White Citizens' Councils, whose stated purpose was to protect the rights of Whites by openly opposing court-ordered desegregation. …

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