Friday, November 30, 2012
Jim Crow and Segregation
Can you imagine living your entire adult life making a sacrifice for your country and not even being acknowledged? Some people get upset when they hold open the door for someone and they don't even get a thank you. Or when driving, a driver might let another car enter in front of them in traffic. Where is the courtesy wave, you might ask? The door and driving incidents are slights that one can basically brush off. But putting your human life on the line is pretty serious. The thousands of African American who enlisted in the Marines during the 1940's did so willingly, and my father insisted that he wanted to serve as a soldier in combat.
What is also interesting to note is that the United States had Jim Crow Laws, which were laws that prohibited Blacks from living in certain neighborhoods, to work in certain occupations, or to eat in restaurants. Segregation was the law of the land and water fountains, rest rooms, movie theaters, schools, buses, and trains insured that races were kept apart. Interracial marriages were illegal and a Negro could be arrested if they broke these laws. Jim Crow Laws were intense in the South, where slavery had a stronghold. The South was considered the area of the country below the Mason- Dixie in Maryland. Northern states, which did not allow slavery had discrimination as well, but the discrimination was less intense, covert and subtle.
When discussing Jim Crow with my students, many of them wondered why Blacks were treated so badly during these times. I would explain that in order to enslave someone, you had to make them feel inferior. You had to make sure that their living conditions were substandard, and not allow them to read or congregate. Families were separated. Rules were established to make Negros "know their place". Tragically, Negros were beaten if they did not obey their slave masters.
The Civil War (1861-1865) was fought to preserve the country, because Southern states seceded over the issue of slavery. Enslaved Africans provided free labor for wealthy Southern plantation owners. Blacks worked long hours picking cotton and farming, creating a thriving economy. Enslaved Africans often tried to escape slavery by fleeing to the North. Sophisticated networks and codes were enabled to outsmart slave owners and slave catchers. Both Northern Blacks and Whites participated in the Abolitionist Movement, a movement that included women to officially end slavery. Once the Civil War ended and slaves were free, the same Segregation Laws persisted. Montford Point Marines were/are descendants of enslaved Africans. Such were the conditions that many of Montford Point Marines grew up in: discrimination and Jim Crow.
" Separate But Not Equal"
But despite this, Montford Point Marines signed up to be a recruits. They signed up and served their country even though they were treated like second class citizens. The Montford Point Marines were some of the brightest African American men selected. According to my dad, he loved his dress blue Marine Uniform. He was proud to wear it when he returned to Florida, but it was challenging to wear the heavy wool jacket in the humid weather! He wore it during a visit home in July, parading his uniform up and down Second Avenue in Daytona.