Comments Roundup: Your Civil Rights Stories


Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Sarah Keys Evans, a Brooklyn resident, Civil Rights activist and the subject of the book Take a Seat -- Make a Stand: A Hero in the Family was joined by Amy Nathan, the book's author, to talk about her arrest in 1952 that resulted in the end of race-based seating rules in interstate transportation.

We also had a Black History Month history call-in and you shared your stories, too. Some of you called in with stories about your family and some shared your stories on line. There are many untold stories from the Civil Rights era — thanks for sharing yours.


My father was pastor of a church in Michigan when on Palm Sunday 1969, April 5th, one day after the first anniversary of Martin Luther King's assasination, he preached a sermon based on the day's text, behold your King has come. He used a play on words to make the point that God speaks to us through many voices and the skin color through which the voice comes doesn't matter.  Apparently, it was the last straw. He was asked to leave and our family moved to Minnesota.

- Randall

My father was a son of Lutheran ministers in China and went to Yale Divinity School where he studied race relations which came to be useful in 1956 when a Lutheran denomination brought my father specifically to integrate a church in Hyde Park. Two years later, he went to the Anglewood section on the south side of Chicago for the purposes of integrating yet another congregation and while there...he realized the realtors were basically using scare tactics to cause white families to leave the neighborhood and then using strong arm tactics to get substantial profits on the resale of those properties from cronies who would buy the properties. So he decided he had to go about proving it. He spent many many months with real estate records in Chicago...and would publish them in a publication that he would distribute in the neighborhood called The Voice.

- John in Ordale, calling in to the Brian Lehrer Show

My family moved to Teaneck, New Jersey, in 1957. In the early '60s, some realtors were engaging in "blockbusting," using fear tactics to try to get white families to sell their houses cheaply. My parents joined a fair housing organization, which gave them a large sign to put on our lawn: "This House Is NOT for Sale." A few years later, our house was used as headquarters for an "undercover" research effort. The organization sent out black, white, and mixed couples to realtors to compare notes on what they were shown.

- Joe from Brooklyn

When I was a child we had a black housekeeper, Willie-Mae. She and my mother became great friends and decided that I needed to learn what it meant to be "a negro" in America during the 1950s. So I went to live for three weeks with Willie-Mae and her children in a black ghetto in Long Beach California. My experience, being a white child in the ghetto, was scary and loving...I learned what it was like to be "the other." It was a life-changing experience for me and lead my life in the direction of social responsibility.

- Nan Harris from NYC

My family moved to Belmont, New York, in 1965 and at that point there were very few people that lived in Belmont proper. Most of the black people lived in South Belmont, but the thing that made it so beautiful from my parents' point of view is that my brother and I were raised completely to be non-prejudice, even though we dealt with immense prejudice and that is something I hold as a mentor now teaching others.

- Darryl in Brooklyn, calling in to the Brian Lehrer Show

In 1951, I was 8 years living with my military family in Belmont, Alabama, and I was shopping with my mother downtown and made the mistake of drinking out of the colored only water fountain and I was immediatley surrounded by a bevy of irate white women...and my mother came flying across the store and waded through them and put her arm around me and...said we don't think like them, we're not like them, we don't believe that.

- Bob in Cliffwood Beach, NJ calling in to the Brian Lehrer Show

My great-great-grandfather, Eber M Pettit and great-great-great-grandfather, Dr. James Pettit were "conductors" on the Under Ground Rail Road running two stations along the Lake Erie shoreline in Western New York. They were outspoken crusaders among active antislavery activists in the area. They was on the "Main Line" funneling fugitives to Black Rock and the Niagra River for passage to Canada. Eber wrote articles in the local newspaper which were later published in a book "Sketches in the History of the Underground Railroad" in 1879.

- Bill Pettit from NJ

My stepfather Edward Rutledge was part of the first-wave Civil Rights movement, leading the fight for equal housing and eventually becoming one of the architects of the 1968 Fair Housing Act. His oldest son, my stepbrother Steve Rutledge joined Freedom Summer and ended up spending three years as a field secretary of SNCC, graduating from Tougaloo Southern Christian College. I remember a 6am phone call from him saying, "They just got Medgar"—and how we prayed that the same fate wouldn't meet him down there. I remember my stepfather being called in to speak with either Andrew Goodman or Mickey Schwerner by the young man's worried parents. Goodman or Schwerner was just about to go down to Mississippi and they wanted my stepfather to advise him on how to remain safe. When the bodies of Schwerner, Goodman and Cheney were finally found, my stepfather sat in front of the TV weeping. "I told him to shave off that goddam beard," he kept saying. Everytime I turned on the TV to news of Mississippi, there was my brother, being beaten and arrested. My living room was filled with two generations of civil rights workers. Their deep commitment and passion for justice is part of my own conscience and a welcome challenge to every choice I've made as an adult.

- Nina d'Alessandro from the East Village, NYC

My civil rights hero is my great-great-grandfather, Robert Queen. He was the first African American attorney to open a law office in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1922. My mother said he was a very quiet and composed and gentle man. He argued a case Hedgepeth v. Board of Education about seven years before Brown v. Board of Education. He argued for before the New Jersey State Supreme Court. The state constitution was changed and the New Jersey schools began to be integrated.

- Kelly in Maplewood, calling in to the Brian Lehrer Show

In the late 40's, my mother would walk into luncheonettes and before ordering would ask, do you serve blacks here? If the answer was no, she'd turn and walk out.

- Martha on the Brian Lehrer Facebook page