Over the Thanksgiving break I spoke to random family members to get their account on some of the civil rights stories that were read in my African American Studies class. It never occurred to me what my family had to endure during the civil rights period.
In the text Introduction to African American Studies, Talmadge Anderson wrote about how the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups had "rejuvenated to bolster the desegregation resistance movement" (Anderson 81).
I asked my great uncle, Otis Cole, Jr., if he had ever encountered a recognizable member of the Ku Klux Klan in Thomasville, Georgia. He said when he was a boy, about ten years old, he remembered walking home one day with a group of friends, and he saw men marching and riding through the street one block over. They were wearing their white robes and their headdresses, but he didn't realize they were the KKK. He had heard about the KKK, but he never knew what they looked like. One of his friends, who had dropped out of school in the seventh grade, had done a lot of reading, and when he saw the men he yelled, "KKK" and my great uncle and friends began to run home.
Anderson wrote about prominent black leaders who founded or participated in various non-violent organizations such as SCLC, NAACP, CORE & SNNC (Anderson 84).
Since there were an abundance of non-violent organizations around during the time my great uncle was a young man, I asked him if he had ever participated in any of these groups. He told me that he wished he could say that he led marches or participated in sit-ins, but if he did say that, it would be a lie. He said that in Thomasville during that time Black people were cautious about what they were getting involved in. For the most part, the Blacks were working for these racist White people and they, the White people, would fire the adults if they received information that their children were participating in those organizations or activities. He said that during that time he was just trying to concentrate on graduating from high school so that he could leave Thomasville. Unlike my great uncle, my grandmother, Agnes Mitchell, said that she remembered participating in various marches, carrying her picket signs singing "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around."
Anderson wrote about the integration of schools and how some African Americans had to be escorted to predominantly white schools by the National Guard or some other forces of the military; for example the story of the students in Arkansas (Anderson 82).
My mother was born in 1963 and she was the only person that I talked to that really remembered the integration of schools because she had a firsthand experience. She told me that when she was in the first grade in the year 1968, she went to an all black elementary school in Thomasville, Georgia, but when she moved to Columbus, Georgia, she went to a school that had been integrated (this was some years after Brown vs. Board of Education). She said that she didn't have to be escorted to school because the school she went to was on an army base and the people were used to being somewhat integrated; she said that people on base were more or less isolated from the outside communities and their problems. She said being in an integrated school allowed her the opportunity to make white friends.
Other random events my family members spoke about during the years 1955-1970:
My grandmother said that she remembered when my great grandmother had her last child. They had separate waiting rooms in Archbold Memorial Hospital located in Thomasville, Georgia.
My grandmother and my great uncle remembered having to go to the back entrance to get into the movie theater or side windows at the ice cream shop. My uncle said one day they were being silly and decided to go to the front of the shop to buy ice cream and the people working there would not serve them. He said while they were up there they spotted a police officer heading to where they were so they turned around and ran home.
My mother remembered seeing many people involved with the Black Panthers and she said there were certain stores that Blacks were not allowed to go in. She said that the Black Panthers had burned some of them.
My mother remembers seeing Lester Maddox on the news because he had been beating Blacks axe handles.
My mother remembers leaving Thomasville, heading to Columbus with her uncle, who was driving a new sports car (Pontiac GTO), and they made it to Dawson, Georgia, where they were pulled over by white officers. She said that they were not breaking any laws, but they pulled them over. The officers asked to see her uncle's license and registration and he handed them the paperwork. They asked him, "Boy where you get this new car?" and he told them that he was a warrant officer so he could afford it, but they didn't believe him. Instead of handing him back his license and the other paperwork, they threw it on the ground and told him to pick it up. Afterwards they asked to see his military card. He refused because it had his social security number on it, so they took my mother, her uncle and aunt to jail. The officers made a call to Ft. Benning in order to corroborate his story and let him go.
Anderson, Talmadge and James Stewart. Introduction to African American Studies: Transdisciplinary Approaches and Implications. Baltimore, MD: Black Classics Press, 2007.
Amity Hill is a native of Thomasville, Georgia where she graduated from Thomasville High School/Scholars Academy; currently she is a sophomore at the University of Georgia majoring in Food & Nutrition Science. Her future goals and aspirations included obtaining a degree for Food & Nutrition Science as well as getting a degree in Pharmacy and working for a leading pharmaceutical company.