However, as you may have noticed from reading the title of this post, or adding up the numbers on the right-hand menu bar, or by skipping to the end of this sentence, this is my 1500th post. An occasion such as this--which serendipitously occurred with a DRB post (no, I didn't plan this)--I feel demands something more elaborate than a quote thrown at you.
So join me under the cut, for cake and party hats!
Ha ha, I lied! There's only racism in here.
Specifically, I wanted to share something of a revelation that I had in the course of my readings. This is something that my readers may already be aware of, and some of you may in fact be shocked at my naiveté. When I attended school we learned about Jim Crow, about segregation, and about the Civil Rights movement in U.S. history classes. Time constraints naturally prevented us from broaching any subject too deeply, much less one as broad as the Jim Crow regime, so it was more or less a superficial treatment: "Blacks were separated from whites, until Rosa Parks sat on a bus and Martin Luther King went to jail." Or at least, that's about all I remember of class.
We didn't delve into the segregationist psyche at all, so I came out of class with the impression that all this happened--that segregation was made legal fiat--simply because whites (southern whites in particular) didn't like blacks. They in fact hated blacks; hated them so much that they couldn't stand for blacks to be around them. You might chalk this up to a failure of education, or a failure of my own imagination, but that was the belief that I had.
However, such was not the case. I'm not trying to suggest that Jim Crow laws didn't exist, of course. Rather, I mean that it was not nearness of blacks that whites hated, but equality of blacks, or even the impression of equality. Institutions that were labeled "Whites only" did not prevent blacks from entering, as long was it was clear that they were in a position of inferiority or subservience to whites. A whites-only restaurant or cafe might have a staff of black waiters or cooks. A black man could enter a whites-only library if he was checking out a book on behalf of a white patron.
I had read some time ago something to the above effect, but couldn't find it in time for this post. In the course of my research I found it again, so here 'tis. From George W. Cable's "The Silent South":
Visiting the principal library of the city, he was eagerly assured, in response to inquiry, that no person of color would be allowed to draw out books; and when a colored female, not particularly tidy in dress, came forward to return a book and draw another, it was quickly explained that she was merely a servant and messenger for some white person.
A black woman could enter a whites-only train car if she were the nanny or nurse of white children. Here's an important section from Peter Wallenstein's Tell the Court I Love My Wife, with him quoting from one of the briefs in Plessy v. Ferguson:
Another of Plessy's lawyers, James C. Walker, developed that approach. "A white man, married to a colored person, boarding the train has the right to enter and take his seat in the white coach with his black servant, if the servant be the nurse of his children; but the [mixed-race] children themselves . . . must occupy the colored coach, if the conductor please so to assign them." Meanwhile, Walker continued, "although the white man and his black servant, employed as nurse, may occupy the white passenger coach, not so is it permitted the colored wife." If traveling with her husband, she must travel separately from him, for "she is required to part with her husband at the coach door and take her seat in the coach intended for colored passengers." Walker concluded that "thus the bottom rail is on top; the nurse is admitted to a privilege which the wife herself does not enjoy, and which is refused to the children whom she is attending."
A black person could not enter the white compartment of a train as just another passenger, for that would put them on a level of equality with whites. However, if they were a white person's servant, then clearly they were not a white person's equal, and so they could be let onto the supposedly whites-only boxcar.
This was likely a holdover from the antebellum period, where blacks were (almost) always slaves and hence inferior to whites. Rayford Logan writes in The Betrayal of the Negro:
After emancipation personal contacts became social relations. The etiquette of slavery permitted, for example, a slave girl to travel as maid for her mistress on a train. The etiquette of freedom found it intolerable that a colored woman paying her own fare should travel in the same coach with a white woman.
Yet as we just saw, a colored woman could still travel in the same coach--again, as long as she were a maid and not a real passenger.
Just as slaveholders were okay with blacks being in the country as long as they were slaves (something that some opponents of slavery objected to--more on that in a later post), segregationists were okay with blacks being around as long as they were kept subservient to whites.
"When you ask me why I do not associate with a Negro," wrote a Texan in 1911, "I do not say it is because the Negro is poor and dirty and ragged and uneducated. I and all the white men I know and all I want to know object to a Negro because he has a black face and other physical characteristics of the race." It was "the presence of an undue proportion of negroes in the southern States" which created troubles of enormous proportions and threatened the peace, happiness, and prosperity of the section. And presumably the troubles would continue as long as the races lived together.
...or maybe not.