Fog of War: The Second World War and the Civil Rights Movement

By Kevin M. Kruse; Stephen Tuck | Go to book overview

3
Segregation and the City
WHITE SUPREMACY IN ALABAMA IN THE
MID-TWENTIETH CENTURY

J. Mills Thornton III

On September 6, 1944, Walton H. Craft, a sixty-five-year-old white resident of Mobile, dispatched a letter of complaint to Alabama’s governor, Chauncey Sparks. Craft had come to Mobile in early 1942 to take a job at the city’s booming Brookley Air Force Base, and each day he rode a city bus from his home to the field. He had become increasingly concerned about the pattern of racial segregation on the Mobile buses, under which there was no fixed racial dividing line. Whites filled from the front and blacks from the back, and the dividing line was wherever they met. On this particular morning, as often happened, the driver “allowed the Negroes to fill [the] rear and continue up the aisle two thirds of the way … hanging over the white women and girls. Frankly, it is not pleasant, not to mention the fact you have paid your fare to be transported to work, only to have some Negro hanging over you or his body touching you from time to time, the ‘Negro Odor’ some times almost more than a person can stand.” That morning Craft had left the bus in disgust before reaching his destination. “I would suggest that a start be made in our own state to correct these practices that have grown to the extent they have, and I am of the opinion there is a State Law which requires the segregation of races, which is not being followed by the present bus company. The excuse some drivers give is, ‘The orders are to bring a full load.’ That may be an instruction; however, it does not give the Bus Company or the driver the right to disregard a State Law that is on the State’s Book, as to the separation of the races. I called the Driver’s attention to this matter as I left the Bus,” but he seemed wholly uninterested.

The obviously deeply agitated Mr. Craft must have been astonished at the reply he received from Governor Sparks, to whom he had so confidently appealed. “If you will investigate the matter you will find, I think, that there is no law requiring the segregation of races in busses…Our segregation laws are few, and apply to such matters as schools, asylums, penitentiaries and things directly under the control of the state. Of course,” the governor added,

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