Civil Rights Interview

June 25, 2011
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In an interview over the phone with my grandma and my mimi, I found out how different segregation was between the north and the south. My grandma grew up in the north during the mid 1950’s and my mimi grew up in the south during the later 1940’s. My grandma said, “Michigan did not have segregation when I was young and to be honest I don’t believe there even were that many segregation issues in the north. There may have been in big cities, but I was raised in a tiny town and there wasn’t any.” My mimi on the other hand stated that there were segregation issues when she was growing up, which was in the south.
“When I was in high school we had a white high school and an African American high school. Also, train stations and bus stations were segregated,” my mimi recalled. My grandma said that the only time she really witnessed segregation was when she and her family went on a vacation to Florida: “When I was a senior in high school, which was in 1958, we went to Florida for a family vacation and that was the first time I really saw segregation. I saw that there were bathrooms for blacks and bathrooms for whites. I was shocked! I couldn’t believe it, I was so surprised. When I saw that, my parents had to explain why it was like that because I had never been exposed to it before. Also, in the restaurants in Florida, they could not come in and eat with us; they had to go in from the back.”
When I asked my mimi and grandma if blacks and whites associated daily with each other, my mimi replied, “They did not. I can remember that there was a white young lady that married an African American and her family disowned her.” My grandma on the other hand claimed, “In school and around the neighborhood we did but I don’t remember my parents ever having any black friends. I think that may have been because they had their own church and I don’t know if that was by choice or if it was just because they were Baptist and my family was Presbyterian. But, when I was younger I had a very good black friend named Bertha who lived across the street from me. I remember that I used to love to go over there because her mom was a great cook, especially when she would make homemade bread and I would stay over there for dinner. My mother would always tell me that it was absolutely fine for me to go hang out over at Bertha’s house and have dinner, but she said I could never spend the night. Which, looking back now, was prejudice.”
“What was your view on segregation like then and now? Has it changed?” I questioned. “I don’t believe my view has changed, I don’t believe in segregation. Blacks have just as many rights as whites. We are all people and should have the same rights as one another.” My grandma declared. My mimi also announced that her views have not changed but she said, “I don’t think that I had a view of it back then and I still don’t.” She said that that was just the way she grew up and how things were back then.
When I asked them if they could recall a time when they actually saw distinct segregation being displayed around them my mimi replied, “I didn’t really get around that much back then because I didn’t have a car and I was still in school so I didn’t really travel around a lot.” My grandma though, recollected of a later time when her and my grandpa were in Detroit for a job interview that my grandpa had, and they had left the very night before the Detroit Riots. They then witnessed the burnings and lootings on television where police cars and other things were being burned and she said it was just terrible.
“If there was any prejudice in my hometown, it was against the Japanese in the late 40’s. There were some farmers out in the country who raised celery and pickles and things like that, they brought Japanese back with them from California; they were just kept out on the farm and were pretty segregated from the rest of us. You would see the same thing with Hispanics and Mexicans, especially if they were brought in as migrant workers. They would all work out there from day to night, even the children and that is still a problem there today.” My grandma added.
This interview described to me how different things were back then and also how different they were between the north and south. It concluded that segregation of blacks and whites was different everywhere you went. My grandma lived in a very small, northern town and my mimi lived in the south. They both experienced quite different aspects of segregation and both grew up around different beliefs about that subject. After hearing and learning about the life style of the early to mid 1900’s, I am very grateful to live in a time period where most people are treated equal and segregation is not an everyday problem in my community.

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