Being black history month, I thought I would tell a few stories about my experiences with the civil rights movement. (Yeah, I'm *THAT* old)
First a little history. In 1964 the civil rights bill was passed, outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Unfortunately, states were slow to comply, particularly in the deep south. Several civil rights equality groups based in DC and New York gathered volunteers to visit these areas and press the issue by attempting to integrate restaurants, bars, beaches, public facilities, etc. One of these groups was CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) of which my mother (Jo Alicia Zucker) was a member.
In 1964 three Mississippi civil rights workers from CORE were murdered on the night of June 21–22 in Neshoba County. This incident was called the Mississippi Burning. You may have seen the movie depicting the trial that followed.
Shortly after this, my mom (who was white) and her best friend Gloria Brown (who was black) were sent to the deep south to help integrate some of the white-only establishments as well as to assist in setting up voter registration and helping disenfranchised people in these areas. The two woman (my mom and Ms. Brown took myself (I was 6) and Ms. Brown's son Sluggo who was a few years older.
The experiences I had as a young child were eye opening. At one point we were pulled over for "speeding". (We had been warned that the southern police were on the lookout for cars with northern plates carrying mixed race occupants and we were very rigidly driving the speed limit). The officer took out his gun and placed it against the temple of Ms. Brown when she insisted she was driving the speed limit. He tried to get her to follow him to the police station which was the same ruse used with the three civil rights workers who were earlier murdered. We refused to follow and after several more police cars came to assist we were finally let go with an expensive fine and a ticket.
Later that day in Mississippi, we went to a diner to get dinner. This was a known "white's only" diner. When we arrived, we were promptly told that they were out of food though clearly others were being serviced. We told them that we would just sit at the counter and have coffee and a soda. They told us they were "out". We said we'd have water. They told us they had no water and that we had to leave. When we refused, we were arrested and spent the night in a cold jail cell. Fortunately, CORE had collaborated with attorneys and we were released the following day. Being 6, I wasn't sure what was going on but it was an early indoctrination to what it was like to be in a jail cell.
Later that day, we went to a "white's only" beach. When we went into the water, EVERYONE and I mean *EVERYONE* got out of the water. They announced over the bullhorn that the water was polluted. The four of us stood in the water while people yelled, cajoled and threw rocks and bottles at us. There were several local police standing on the beach with their arms folded doing nothing! After a period of time, the police finally came into the water and forcibly escorted us off of the beach where once again, we were taken to a jail cell. Interestingly, As we were being escorted away, the pollution ban was "lifted" and everyone went back in the water.
There were many other experiences with using "white's only" bathrooms, drinking fountains, etc., that are just mind blowing to have experienced.
I feel as though this short experience of putting on another man's shoes shaped my beliefs and life in ways beyond anything I could have gotten by reading about this type of thing in school. I'm not sure I would have had the courage to put my children in the same situations that my mom put me in but I did my best to raise them in a way that would have made her proud. Hopefully, they carry some of the same equality genes as passed on to me by my mom and dad.