Sunday, September 13, 2009

On Being an African American in the Fifties, Part II

 If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.  ~ Pearl Buck
One of the reasons I wanted to do this blog.

The Fifties
The end of World War II brought thousands of young servicemen back to America to pick up their lives and start new families in new homes with new jobs. With an energy never before experienced, American industry expanded to meet peacetime needs. Americans began buying goods not available during the war, which created corporate expansion and jobs.  Growth was everywhere and the baby boom was underway.

Compliance and attempts at social perfection were hallmarks of the 1950s domestic scene, where the two-parent families in which the father worked in industry and the mother remained home as a homemaker were idealized in television programs such as Leave it to Beaver, but it was also the time of Amos and Andy.  Fear of the bomb, McCarthyism, and desegregation attempts heightened tensions. Unnecessarily, race created a circumscribed context for our lives.

On May 17, 1954, the landmark decision,
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, overturned the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling, which legalized segregation.  The Supreme Court Ruling stated that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." As a result, de jure racial segregation was ruled a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. This victory paved the way for integration and the civil rights movement.  There was massive resistance to the ruling and it was many years before some institutions were desegregated.

We were married March 5, 1955, in Chicago, Illinois, in my mother's living room.  I was 17 and he was 22.  When we returned to campus after a week-end honeymoon, I was suspended for a month because married women could not live in the dorms.  Before we left campus, two professors gave us gifts, the only gifts we received.  We still use those gifts today.

The question was where would we go until Moody left for Panama?  My mother was upset about the marriage so we couldn’t go back to Chicago.  Moody suggested that we go to Baton Rouge with the few dollars we had, so I could get to know his family better.  I packed my clothes, Moody got his duffel bag, and off we went on a bus to catch a train in Covington, KY.  In 1955, because of segregation, we couldn't board in Cincinnati because they couldn't legally separate the races. So they sent Black people across the river to Covington to board the train. In Kentucky there was a white section and a colored section on the train so the new Lt. and Mrs. Moody had to take their place in the colored coach section.  We played cards, while traveling, and talked about our future.  

As the train ambled into Montgomery, AL we noticed a lot of stirring among the train staff.  After being in the station for an inordinate amount of time passengers began to get nervous.  Finally, we were told what was happening. 

Train strike.  The train was not moving another mile.  Everyone had to get off the train and find another mode of transportation  The airplanes were reserved for white people but Greyhound allowed us to board a bus to finish our trip. 

This was my first ride at the back of a segregated bus.  I was unprepared mentally and physically for the strain of the ride the rest of the way, after all, I was a suspended college student on her honeymoon.  The colored restrooms at stops along the way were incredibly nasty and the food we were allowed to purchase was substandard.  

Us in Louisiana on our honeymoon

The bus rolled slowly toward Louisiana, making stops at every town along the way.  When the bus reached Baton Rouge, Moody remarked that he lived not too far from where the bus was stopped, waiting for a traffic light to change. I could take it no more.  I yelled to the driver to stop.  We got our bags, jumped off the bus, and began to walk toward Moody’s parents’ home.  In winter clothes, we were overdressed for the Louisiana sun.  By the time we reached the house, we collapsed.

Moody’s family made sure we had a good, relaxing stay.  Too soon, it was time for me to return to school and Moody left for Panama.  We would be apart in April, May, and most of June.

Love puts the fun in together, the sad in apart, 
and the joy in a heart.  ~Author Unknown


  1. I read your your history with a curious mixture of sadness and joy.

  2. Jonas, thanks for that. I did a post just for you.