Patricia Ross watched the Civil Rights Movement unfold before her youthful eyes in her hometown of Cordele, Georgia during the 1960s. She carries the lessons of the movement with her to this day. After graduating with the last segregated class of her high school, she attended Fort Valley State College (now Fort Valley State University) and eventually earned both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education. For nearly 30 years, Ross taught in various elementary schools and middle schools in Middle Georgia. Now retired, she remains familiar with the classroom by teaching remedial courses at Macon State College and acting as a substitute teacher. She resides in Perry, Georgia with her husband and together they have one son, a graduate of the University of Georgia. She feels that she owes much of the success in her life to the leaders who fought so courageously to achieve justice for black people. Here are just a few of Ross's memories of growing up in a small Georgia town during the Civil Rights Movement.
What are some of your most memorable moments regarding segregation during your childhood?
My first memory of being treated like a second-class citizen was from when we went shopping. We had to try on clothing in separate dressing rooms from whites in department stores. We had to wait for clerks to wait on white people before they waited on us.
Were the clerks black or white?
There were never any black store clerks in the 1960s. Also, when we went shopping, we had to use separate water fountains. The white fountain was much better kept and refrigerated, while the black fountain was unkempt with hot water and was often not working properly. Only some stores had black restrooms and when they did, they were always inferior.
What were some of your other experiences with segregation?
When we traveled, we had to think about restrooms and hotel accommodations because of the lack of restrooms and hotels for blacks. We had to depend on family and friends if we were going out of town. In big restaurants in major cities, there was sometimes a small section for blacks to eat, but in small towns like Cordele, we could not be waited on and had to receive food from restaurant windows. At school, all of our books were used and outdated, adn we never had new furniture. When white schools were done with books and furniture, they sent them to us. In high school, we didn't have lockers like white high schools.
At doctor's offices, blacks had to sit in the back because they could not sit with the whites in the waiting rooms. We had to enter through the side of the downtown movie theater and sit in the balcony section. I ended up going to a black college because I personally didn't know any black person who attended a white college at the time. During segregation, you were expected to know your place and abide accordingly or else be insulted or pay penalties.
How did civil rights activism touch your life?
When memebers of the SNCC came to Cordele, I was amazed by their work. They registered people to vote and staged sit-ins and all kinds of demonstrations. I was also amazed to see its white members come to black neighborhoods and fight for our causes. I remember them integrating my all black neighborhood.
Denechia Powell is a senior magazines major from Brunswick, Ga. After she graduates, she plans to attend UGA's School of Social Work to pursue a master's degree. Her career goal is to make people feel better about themselves and each other.