After publishing last week’s article and receiving feedback about that history lesson and what presidential candidate Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan means to some of us, I started thinking about the “invisible walls” of my childhood in the south and thought I share those memories with you. When he talks about “building the wall,” he’s not just talking about the one at the Mexican border.
I vividly remember my first trip to New York on a Greyhound bus with my late cousin Zelda Lee Barber. We were fresh eager beavers out of high school in 1960 ready to take over the world. We boarded the bus in Kinston and were regulated by law to sit in the back of the bus. Never having that experience of riding on a nice bus like Greyhound, I thought nothing at the time until we got into Washington D.C., our nation’s capital to make a transfer going on to New York. I noticed something different on the bus and that was Black people were told they could sit anywhere there was a vacant seat. This was new to me because down south Blacks sat in the back even though the 1955 bus boycott of Montgomery, Alabama had been won.
I remember someone saying that we were crossing the Mason Dixon Line that separates the north from the southern way of life. I had heard of the Mason Dixon Line, it was invisible in vision but very real when it came to the laws, customs and practices of people. I learned later in life that this imaginary line was actually created because of slavery. Even though those laws are off the books today some Blacks and Whites still live their lives as those they still exist. And that is why Donald Trump is doing so well with uneducated White men and so poorly with African Americans. We understand what he is saying and if elected will implement laws to bring back their good old days of terror.
My other experience under Jim Crow Laws was total separation of the races: drinking from separate drinking fountains and watching movies in our cars from the back two rows of drive-in-theaters. My education was in a wooden building that our parents had to build while White children where housed in a brick building with central heating from one furnace. Our school had an individual potbelly coal-burning heater that would heat those close to it while the other students would freeze. Our books were hand me downs from the White students with their names still written in them, the same was true when it came to school buses. Whites controlled the school board and the local, state and federal funds allocated to the district. They did allow us to have our own superintendent who reported to the White superintendent. They called that separate and equal even though the spending of money was never equal.
When we went to town to shop for our annual return to school we had to know the right sizes because we were not allowed to try clothes on. If you had to go to the restroom you would have to run all the way to the government building because the private department stores did not have restrooms for colored people. We could not eat nor sit and eat in stores like Woolworth’s. When entertainers like Fats Domino came to cities in the south they would put ropes down the middle aisle to prevent the races from touching each other. That was life in the south.
This is what Donald Trump wants to turn America back into. A place where only White males will have the first offer for jobs, when they had no competition from women or any other group of people. He wants to return America to the days when America would import Asians to the country to labor for low wages. He wants to return America to the days before Cesar Chavez conducted boycotts for better working conditions for Mexican migrants workers. This is what Donald Trump is peddling to White America. Unfortunately too many of our fellow Americans are buying it. However, I still believe people who are of a sound mind and have a good moral compass to guide them are turning away from Trump’s kind of crazy thinking.
Now I am sure some of you have different experiences that can educate voters. We must unite. Share your thoughts so others can learn from our struggle as a people and why we so vehemently denounce Trump.