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Comments Roundup: Your Civil Rights Stories

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

WNYC

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

Guests:

Sarah Keys Evans and Amy Nathan

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Comments [17]

Amy from Manhattan

Deborah, I grew up in the Md. suburbs of DC & remember that campaign! My parents, good liberal Democrats, voted for Agnew for the same reason. What some people who read about this may not realize is that the slogan "Your home is your castle" was code for "and you don't have to sell it to black people."

Feb. 10 2011 02:06 AM
Melissa Meyer from Lower Manhattan

My father Dr.Paul Meyer(1904-1970) had an integrated dental practice in Queens ,NY and some people(whites) didn't like sitting in the waiting room with African Americans and Dr. Meyer couldn't care less! He also trained Black dentists and helped them with their practices.My mother Dina Meyer (1912-1995) helped integrate Fresh Meadows Towers apartments by getting a Bloomingdales discount for someone in the rental office and a Black dentist and his family rented an apartment
.Melissa Meyer

Feb. 09 2011 05:44 PM
Melissa Meyer from Lower Manhattan

My father Dr.Paul Meyer(1904-1970) had an integrated dental practice in Queens ,NY and some people(whites) didn't like sitting in the waiting room with African Americans and Dr. Meyer couldn't care less! He also trained Black dentists and helped them with their practices.My mother Dina Meyer (1912-1995) helped integrate Fresh Meadows Towers apartments by getting a Bloomingdales discount for someone in the rental office and a Black dentist and his family rented an apartment
.Melissa Meyer

Feb. 09 2011 05:43 PM
Albert Rabasca from Montclair, NJ

I'm 57. My mother Doris, 87, and my late father Al did more than they'll ever know in shaping my outlook on racial equality. Our dentist growing up was African-American, Dr. Robert Thomson, Jr. It seemed completely normal to me at the time until much later when I talked about it with friends. Apparently this wasn't the norm in the 1950s and 60s. I remember sitting in his office as a child reading JET magazine. It never seemed odd to me that we were the only white people there. I once asked my mother how we came to choose Dr. Thompson as our dentist? The answer was even more surprising. She said, "because Grandma and Grandpa always went to his father, Dr. Robert Thompson Sr.!"

Feb. 09 2011 02:42 PM
Timothy from LA

After such a great program this morning (the Scientology segment, the woman on the bus, -- all really great stuff), I cannot suppress my disappointment at those rather mild calls you took for the "local heroes." Four of the five callers were white and they weren't exactly revelatory examples of fighting racism (The kid at the drinking fountain? C'mon now.). I don't want to discount nor demean these people and their relatives' efforts (the real estate cases were significant) but they just didn't measure up to what I've come to expect from your programming. Not to mention, a couple came close to simply being self-congratulatory.

Feb. 09 2011 01:45 PM

I work for Facing History and Ourselves in New York city, and we've been looking to add civil rights veterans to our local speakers bureau. If you know of someone who would be willing to share their story with NY area schools (NYC, LI, NJ, CT), please contact the New York office at 212-992-7399 and ask for Shoshanna or Tracy. Thank you, Brian Lehrer, for featuring these stories on your program today!

Feb. 09 2011 01:37 PM

My sister went on a Freedom Bus ride down to Mississippi in '66 or '67.

And the struggle continues....Congress' opening the session by reading the 'as amended' Constitution is an attempt to diminish the real struggle that is needed for our nation to move toward a 'more perfect union'.

Feb. 09 2011 12:17 PM
Alex from NYC

To the remembered relative who asked of restaurant proprietors "Do you serve Blacks here?" I wish I'd been there to respond: no, we serve bigots. We find that they're easier to prepare because there are no hearts or brains to be removed."

Feb. 09 2011 12:03 PM
Nan Harris from New York City

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.

Feb. 09 2011 12:02 PM
Matthew from Brooklyn

Two of your callers mentioned the pernicious place of RealtorsTM in profiting off of Jim Crow America. There's a story not told enough there, one that echos to this day in red-lining.

Feb. 09 2011 12:02 PM
Estelle from Austin

This isn't exactly what you're asking for, but it's an interesting snapshot of the time:

I'm white; my uncle went from cosmopolitan Houston to college in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in the mid-1960s. He was not prepared for the racial tension there. He made friends with a black woman in the college canteen, and eventually suggested they hang out sometime when she wasn't working. She was shocked at the suggestion, and said no, they can't socialize. He was puzzled, and asked why not. She said blacks and whites just don't do that.

Another time, some white college students were harassing and threatening a young black boy on a bicycle, and my uncle came to his defense. A little while later after my uncle was home, he heard some noise outside, looked out, and Klansmen had actually gathered in front of his house! He stayed inside, needless to say! After a while they dispersed.

Feb. 09 2011 11:58 AM
Bill Pettit from USR, New Jersey

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 NY. 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.

Feb. 09 2011 11:56 AM
Deborah from Washington Heights

I grew up in the 60's in Baltimore, around the corner from the segregated Gwynn Oak amusement park (immortalized in John Water's movie Hairspray, Sonny Bono played the amusement park's owner). My father, who was very active in liberal politics, forbid us to go to that park except on "report card day" when it was free, and we weren't contributing financially. I was always politiking with him, and remember us actively campaigning for Spiro Agnew, who was our County Executive and running for Governor on the Republic ticket, because the democrat, George P. Mahoney, was a George Wallace democrat who's motto was "You're Home is Your Castle, Protect It!"

Feb. 09 2011 11:48 AM
Nina d'Alessandro from East Village, NYC

There were two in my immmediate family and their influence has been lifelong on the rest of us:
my step-father 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 step-brother 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 6 am 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.

Feb. 09 2011 11:48 AM
Garry Mendez from Upper West Side

My uncle, Charlie Johnson of Millbrook, NY, fought in Korea in 1953. This past fall he was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for saving the lives of 8 American soldiers, all of whom where white. (You can learn more about it in the soon to be released documentary film, Hold At All Costs about the battle in which he lost his life.)

This may not sound like a civil rights story but when you consider that his was one of the first integrated companies in the Army and that his heroism influenced so many people, the story helps to further set the stage for African-Americans to gain equality within the Army and in American society as a whole.

Feb. 09 2011 11:48 AM
mc from Brooklyn

My father worked for Bayard Rustin as a college student. Both of my parents were activists, participating in sit-ins at luncheonettes, barber shops and the like in the 40's and 50's.

Feb. 09 2011 11:21 AM
Joe from Brooklyn

My family moved to Teaneck, N.J., 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.

Feb. 09 2011 09:56 AM

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