Greensboro 4

June 5th, 2019

After over 10 hours on a bus and only 3 hours of sleep, I was physically unable to type about my experience on the first day in Greensboro, NC, but lucky for you I am now well rested, well fed, and ready to tell you about the first official stop on the Civil Rights Tour.

We prefaced the stop by watching a few videos which I have discovered is an extremely helpful tool in getting some background and context to the stop ahead. The first and main video was about a group of college students from A&T that made one of the first steps forward against the Jim Crow culture of south. Although the laws were no longer in tact, the mindset was still engrained in the minds of the locals and enforced by the local police.

We were able to go to the old Woolworths store where these four young men initiated a peaceful sit-in at the all white lunch counter. We saw the stools that they sat in day after day as a stand against segregation and stores not serving them lunch simply because of the color of their skin. Although they faced violence and threats, the boys grew their numbers and sparked a movement of sit-ins all over the nation which ultimately forced the stores to serve them. The unfortunate part of this story is that the change was because the protests were hurting the companies financially, not because they changed their minds.

The tour was dedicated to the Greensboro Four, however it also showcased the entire timeline of the civil rights movement. I was fortunate enough to have Minni Jean (one of the Little Rock 9 as I mentioned in my previous post) on the tour with me. At one point, one of our group members whispered to the tour guide who she was and he immediately stared crying, as did the rest of us. He was so in awe to see someone standing in front of him that would be a part of the tour just a few minutes later. She offered so much insight and I feel like I got an added bonus to an already great tour! While there was a ton of information, here is a list of facts that stuck out to me the most:

  1. Restrooms were labeled differently for white vs black females. The term “ladies” was used for white bathrooms and and “women” was used for black. According to Minni, this was to show a class difference between the two and demonstrate that white women were proper and higher class, fancy ladies while black women were just women.
  2. Coke machines were available to both races in segregated areas with separate motors, dispensers and everything. There would be a wall partition between both sides so that one side couldn’t see the other. This allowed the company to charge blacks $.10 when their white counterparts were charged only $.05. It was also common for the repair man to “accidentally” break the cooling side of the blacks dispenser so it would come out warm.
  3. A green book was written as a travel guide for blacks going up and down the east coast. It provided a list of all the services they may need and places that served people of color. It also listed places to avoid. A hotel in Harrisburg made the “safe” list which I was proud to see!
  4. Black men were not allowed to be pilots in the Air Force due to the belief that their heads would explode at high altitudes (RIDICULOUS only begins to cover this for me…)
  5. Colored water fountains were only about 3 ft off the ground as a way to remind blacks where they belonged in society – lower to the ground and bowing to their white oppressors.
  6. All kinds of horrible voting restrictions were placed on blacks including out of this world literacy tests in hopes of preventing blacks from voting. The most ridiculous of tests being the requirement of a black person to look at a bar of soap and tell the tester how many bubbles it would produce. If they got it wrong, there were deemed unable to vote. WHAT A JOKE!

As I type the work joke above I understand that none of these things were a joke to black people in that time. And that time was just a few years ago! My parents were alive for this!!!! Although they seem like such minute details of daily life, I think they display something so deeply engrained in peoples mind. I knew separate but equal wasn’t really that, but this is taking it to a whole new level for me.

There was a second portion of the tour called the wall of shame. We were told that if we were sensitive we should not attend as it shows things that aren’t in textbooks. For me this was difficult because on one hand, I am sensitive – on the other, I absolutely want to know what is not being taught! I decided to go in because of this curiosity and I ended up being fine. It was mainly images of lynchings, burnings, and beatings of blacks during the struggle since slavery. It was hard to look at but important to see how evil really had taken over the minds of these people. One photo showed a black man who was wrongly accused of raping a white woman. He was beaten, lit on fire, chopped up, and dragged behind a car on display for the whole town to see. People bought tickets for themselves and their children and they treated it like a county fair. We also saw a klan uniform that a daughter had found when cleaning out her parents house after their death. It was splattered with blood and one can only imagine what that white uniform was responsible for.

Needless to say this day shed only a small light on what’s to come on the rest of this trip. I must say I have felt this uncomfortable sense of guilt for what white people have done and I know it’s only going to get worse. The only form of solace I have gotten is seeing the number of whites who were killed and went to jail fighting for black freedom. I hope that Minni and other people who experienced the hate then and still today (yes it is still happening today and we need to do something about it) can understand that there are white people who care about and love them as equal human beings.

I think another issue I’m going to struggle with is the idea that Christianity was behind the hate. I know this is nothing new and I know that it still exists, but I don’t think I can ever comprehend how a klansman can bomb a black family’s house and pray to God right after. How they can spew hateful words, spit on and beat another human and hold a bible in their hands while doing it. How a politician who claims that Jesus is part of their campaign can enforce laws that promote hate and poverty to human beings. The irony is that the civil rights movement for blacks was fueled by their faith in God. They prepared in churches, sung gospel songs, and preached peace and love as Jesus did. How can people not see who is truly being Christlike in this situation?!?

Basically I think I’ve just learned that people are more crazy than I realized and that America can not pretend like we are this squeaky clean, land of the free, home of the brave. We are not the promised land for some and we are not without fault in history and present day.



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